Family: Diabetes may have played role in wreck

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NATCHEZ — Family members of the Natchez man who was killed in a highway shootout Saturday night say he was likely in diabetic shock when he pulled a gun and fired at law enforcement officers.

But Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol spokesman Warren Strain said even if that were the case, the situation changed drastically when Justin Tyler Harrigill fired at troopers.

Harrigill, 25, was traveling south on Interstate 55 near Crystal Springs when he apparently lost control of his vehicle and ran off the road.

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Harrigill became verbally abusive and wouldn’t respond to a trooper’s commands, who was doing routine patrol in the area, Strain said. Troopers shot Harrigill with a Taser, but the shock had no effect.

Harrigill went to his vehicle and pulled a .45 cal. handgun from between the seats of his vehicle and fired one shot at officers before they returned fire and killed Harrigill.

T.J. Isbell, Harrigill’s cousin and friend, said Harrigill had been in and out of the hospital in the last few weeks to deal with symptoms form diabetic induced spells.

“He had an episode a few weeks ago where his sugar went up, and he didn’t have his insulin on him,” Isbell said. “When he came back, he would have these spells where you’d be sitting there talking to him and he would go out.”

Isbell said he grew up Harrigill and the two began working in the granite construction business when they were 17.

The reports Isbell heard from the situation don’t sound like something Harrigill would do, he said.

“If you knew him, he just wasn’t that type of person and to hear that he did something like that is just out of character for him,” Isbell said. “He was very mellow and non-confrontational, which is why it’s so shocking to hear what’s being said about him.”

Faye Massey, Harrigill’s grandmother, said she had spoken to her grandson hours before the incident and he told her he wasn’t feeling well because of his blood sugar levels.

“If he had a sugar attack, he wouldn’t know who anyone was around him,” Massey said. “He couldn’t have realized that (the troopers) were there to help him.

“He was a good boy.”

Strain said toxicology and forensic tests are currently being completed to see if Harrigill may have been under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Strain said blood sugar levels would be included in those tests, but that those levels would likely be inaccurate.

“The forensic scientists say that post mortem blood sugar levels are very inaccurate, so the usefulness of that test will likely not reveal any accurate information,” Strain said. “Medical conditions are always a consideration in those situations, but the fact that he fired the weapon is more or less the trump card.

“Once he fired the weapon, the troopers were in a situation where they had to fire back.”

The officers involved were put on administrative leave with pay until the investigation is complete as part of standard policy and procedure, Strain said.