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GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) -
A Gaston County man pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to second degree murder after his SUV slammed into a car driven by former Belmont Mayor Kevin Loftin.
Lester Saunders Norman, 42, entered a guilty plea to a long list of charges including second degree murder.
Norman will serve three consecutive sentences for the charges, adding up to 25 to 34 years in prison.
Loftin was driving his Audi down Park Street in February, on his way back from an Ash Wednesday service. His friend Donna Deitz was also in the car.
Investigators originally told WBTV Norman tried to run over officers who were conducting a license check at exit 26 of Interstate 85. On Tuesday, Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell said Norman actually may not have intentionally tried to run over any officers, but Belmont Police Chief Charlie Franklin said his officers still believe Norman tried to hit them.
They said he then led police down I-85 and ended up on Wilkinson Boulevard. There, investigators said Norman ran a red light and slammed into two vehicles, killing Loftin and Deitz instantly.
Detectives say Norman tried to run away, but was arrested a short time later. He was on parole at the time, and was driving with his license revoked.
After Norman entered a guilty plea Tuesday, the sister of Donna Deitz, Ellen Deitz Tucker, rose to address the court.
"Mr. Norman thought only about evading his pursuers, and as far as I can tell, his pursuers thought only about preventing his evasion," said Tucker. "Nobody. Nobody thought about the innocent bystanders."
She says the chase led to the deadly crash, and police need to re-evaluate their pursuit policy.
"We've got to think about this problem. It behooves the community to think about it. And it's our fault this happened because we haven't forced police to think about it," said Tucker.
Chief Franklin responded in an interview Tuesday, saying he personally knew Deitz and Loftin. He said what happened was a tragedy, but not the fault of the police.
"I respect her concerns, and there was a review of the policy and procedure," said Franklin. "It was a tragic loss, but we stand behind our officers and what they did that night."
During the plea procedure, the judge gave Norman a chance to address the court. He declined, but his daughter stood up and apologized to the families of the victims.
Tucker closed her statement by addressing Norman directly. She said she prays he uses his time in prison to his advantage and finds something to ground him.
"...some meaning to your life that will save you from ever acting again on a desperate, reckless, wanton impulse," said Tucker.