It could have been much worse.
Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele has nothing but praise for the way police officers handled a situation early Sunday morning that could have resulted in the use of deadly force.
"This could easily have been a deadly force incident," the chief said. "When I got there, I was just thankful to see them walking."
DiMichele headed out to Brennan Concourse around 3 a.m. after being notified that Berkeley police officers were pursuing a man wanted for an assault who was already too familiar to them.
Kenneth Morris — now sitting in the Ocean County Jail in Toms River — is the same man who barricaded himself in his Northern Boulevard several months ago, DiMichele said.
Officers were on high alert because of Morris' past history, she said.
"We knew he was the same person, so we agreed we could not let him get to another residence," DiMichele said. "We knew we had to stop him."
Police began a high-speed pursuit of Morris at 2:44 a.m. Sunday, after responding to a report that Morris had struck a man in the head with a tire iron, then fled the scene in his pick-up truck. They found him on Brennan Concourse.
Morris, who had told police he had a gun, rammed three police cruisers with this truck. Patrolmen Patrick Stesner, Michael O'Connor, David Moody and Sgt. Peter Larocca were all injured in the assault.
During the pursuit, Morris and Detective Joseph Robertazzi had a phone conversation in which Morris claimed to be armed, threatened to kill the victim of the Brennan Concourse assault and declared his intention to die by "suicide by cop," police said.
The Berkeley resident was soon spotted traveling south on Harbor Inn Road by Patroman Patrick Stesner, who activated his lights and siren in an attempt to pull Morris over. Morris, however, ignored Stesner and fled through Beachwood and Lacey Township, then back into Bayville, police said.
He stopped at the home where the tire iron assault allegedly took place, but found police officers stationed at the residence. He barreled down Brennan Concourse, only to find the gate leading to the entrance of Berkeley Island Park locked, the chief said.
"He did a U-turn and came head-on at the officers," DiMichele said. "He did say he had a gun. When the collision occurred, they didn't know when this guy got out of the car if he had a gun. Tensions were high. The officers used really good restraint."
Morris rammed the police cruisers several times with his truck, then got out and charged the officers. He was eventually subdued with pepper spray.
"I was thankful we had the DWI patrol out there that night, which put more officers on the road," the chief said. "That possibly averted a deadly force encounter."
Stesner, O'Connor and Moody all have neck and back injuries and were treated at Community Medical Center in Toms River. They will probably be on light duty for two weeks, DiMichele said.
"They were up and walking when I was there," she said. "I was thankful for that."
Sgt. Larocca was treated for a facial laceration at the scene.
The victim of the Brennan Concourse assault also was transported to Community Medical Center and received staples to his head. Morris was taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center for injuries he sustained when he rammed the police cars.
Police are still evaluating the damage to the three police cruisers, DiMichele said.
"The damage looks extensive, but it could be cosmetic," she said.
The Township Council has scheduled an emergency meeting at 5:30 p.m. tonight in Town Hall to speed up equipping new police cruisers the township recently leased.
"We need to get the police equipment into the cars," she said.
Morris was charged with five counts of second-degree aggravated assault, one count of third-degree aggravated assault and one count of second-degree eluding. More charges are expected, police said.
His bail was set at $750,000, with no 10 percent option.
Morris was involved in a 12-hour police standoff on Sept. 19, when police responded to his Northern Boulevard home after someone not at the residence called and said he had threatened some type of violence. He eventually came out and no charges were filed in that incident.