Manchester street where inmate took his life may never be the same


COFFEE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – The two Coffee County deputies shot by a fleeing inmate remain in the hospital Tuesday night.

Wendell Bowen is at Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga where he underwent surgery Monday and is still in the intensive care unit, while Wade Bassett is at Vanderbilt University Medical Center awaiting surgery on his hand.

Both were shot by Michael Bell, 37, who was trying to escape custody after a hearing at the courthouse in Manchester.

Bell then took his own life in a nearby home’s yard on Madison Street, which may never be the same after the terrifying ordeal.

“Police cars, unmarked cars, they were everywhere on the street,” said neighbor Carol Sumner. “It was very surreal like; it feels like a dream almost still.”

Sumner didn’t see Bell running down the street, but she heard what happened.

“I heard a gunshot, so I opened the door and peeked out; first I thought it was firecrackers,” she told News 2.

She could see it all from her front porch.

“I had a birds eye view,” Sumner said. “They were running right in front of my house, by my mailbox, pulling on their bullet proof vest, cocking their guns, running.”RELATED: Homeowner tapes note to door after Coffee County inmate takes life in yard

From there, she saw officers standing over the inmate.

“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s a body.’” It had on no shirt, no shoes, just the striped pants,” Sumner said.

She told News 2 she is thankful she wasn’t out working in her flower garden when Bell came running down the street.

“In the position he was laying, he could have run up here, taken me hostage, shot me, or any kind of weird thing,” Sumner said. “I kept thinking, ‘What if I had been outside? That’s what I was thinking at the time.”

Bell is accused of overpowering Deputy Bowen, taking his gun and shooting him on the third floor of the Coffee County Justice Center. He then shot Deputy Bassett as he escaped out of the courthouse.

“A tremble came over me, and then my first reaction was I got to go, took off, and came over to the Justice Center,” said Coffee County sheriff’s spokesman Lucky Knott.

It’s been an emotional two days for the department’s employees.

“It did take its toll yesterday and throughout today. We’ve all sit around and talked about how much we prayed for those two officers,” Knott told News 2. “They’re people that’s been saying, ‘Hey it’s not just about the officers.’ We’re praying for the family of the person who did this.”

On Tuesday, female trustees were being closely watched in the parking lot of the Justice Center.

News 2 wanted to know if any policy changes are forthcoming to keep officers safe when handling inmates.

“That’s a discussion you’ll have to have with the sheriff if any changes will take place,” Knott said. “I don’t know at this point. That’s something he’ll deal with because his main concern is the two officers in the hospital.”

The Coffee County Sheriff’s Office has a chaplain available if any of the officers need counseling in the wake of their two colleagues being shot.

Sheriff’s officials also wanted to past along to those who were supposed to appear in court Tuesday. They said be sure to call the courthouse to see when their case will be rescheduled.

The Justice Center should reopen on Wednesday.

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