UPDATE 8/13/13 @ 11 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The man charged in a high speed police chase through downtown Huntington, that ended in a crash where several people were hurt, agreed to a plea deal Tuesday.
The charges are all related to an incident back in December 2012 when police spotted Anthony Merritt, 34, of Huntington, allegedly stealing spare tires. That's when the pursuit began
Investigators said that during the pursuit Merritt crashed into a Sheriff's cruiser and two other vehicles at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 10th Street. Three people were injured in the crash.
Merritt was captured several hours later, hiding under a house in the Guyandotte section of Huntington.
During a hearing Tuesday morning in Cabell County Circuit Court, Merritt pleaded guilty to fleeing in a vehicle with reckless indifference. He also entered Kennedy pleas to one count of felony grand larceny and four counts of misdemeanor grand larceny.
Charges of burglary, transferring stolen property, petit larceny and destruction of were dropped.
Merritt will be sentenced at a later date. During that hearing, victims injured in the pursuit will have an opportunity to speak.
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Anthony Merritt led the chase through downtown Huntington resulting in a crash involving a Sheriff's cruiser and two other vehicles. Merritt says he didn't do it.
The charges are all related to an incident back in December of 2012 when Merritt was allegedly stealing spare tires when police spotted Merritt. That's when the pursuit began.
Wednesday morning, Merritt rejected a plea agreement offered by the Cabell County Prosecutor. The deal would have charging Merritt with grand larceny with restitution, and information plea to a felony, fleeing from an officer with reckless indifference with four lesser charges being dismissed, but the remaining unrelated (previous) misdemeanor charges for stealing spare tires would be placed in the misdemeanor rotation.
Assistant Prosecutor Jara Howard says all agreements are off the table now and they will move forward with a more serious charge.
"With regard to the fleeing from the Sheriff's department that ended in a wreck at 10th street as I understand that's a pretty substantial case evidence wise," Howard said.
According to Howard, the charge now will be fleeing from an officer causing injury to the officer or others.
Three people were injured in that accident.
A trial date has been set for August 13 at 9 a.m.
During the chase, a Cabell County Sheriff’s Deputy was involved in a crash with two other cars at the intersection of 10th Street and 5th Avenue. The deputy, Sgt. Larry Gary, and two people in the cars were hurt in the crash.
The driver that officers were chasing, Anthony Merritt, 34, of Huntington, was arrested later Thursday evening hiding under a house in 300 block of 34th Street in the Guyandotte area of Huntington.
Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook released the following information about the investigation on Friday.
"On December 6, 2012 at approx. 3:34 p.m. an off-duty HPD officer observed the suspect stealing (sic) a tire from a parked car in the 900 block of rear Washington Ave. The suspect was observed leaving the scene of the theft in a red, Pontiac Grand Am. The suspect vehicle matched the description of a vehicle believed to be involved in multiple other thefts throughout the city in recent days.
The off duty officer radioed his observations to other officers in the area, and asked for assistance. Within seconds of the broadcast, a marked HPD Patrol Unit arrived in the area. As the patrol unit arrived, the suspect fled the area. The HPD Unit pursued from a distance, attempting to catch up to the suspect vehicle.
As the suspect fled, he ran a stop sign at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and 11th Street. CCSO Sgt. Larry Gay was fueling his cruiser at TTA and witnessed the violation. He attempted to perform a traffic stop of the suspect’s vehicle, and the suspect continued to flee. Sgt. Gay initiated a pursuit of the suspect, taking a position as the first police vehicle or “primary unit”.
Sgt. Gay almost immediately was joined by a HPD unit and immediately became aware that the HPD unit had been pursuing the suspect, although not closely at that point. The pursuit then continued cooperatively, with Sgt. Gay as the primary and a HPD unit as the secondary pursuit unit.
Sgt. Gay advised dispatch of the pursuit and began calling out directions and other pertinent details.
As the pursuit continued east on 5th Avenue, another HPD Unit was positioned on First Street at 5th Avenue in order to assist. There was a significant gap between Sgt. Gay and the assisting HPD Unit as the pursuit passed First Street, resulting in another HPD Unit joining the pursuit. At no time were any of the pursuing units overtaken by any other police units.
During the subsequent pursuit investigation, vehicle GPS data was examined. That data indicates that HPD pursuit units all slowed periodically as necessary to clear traffic and intersections before accelerating again to pursuit speeds. While GPS data is not available for the CCSO cruiser, interviews with other officers and witnesses, and other anecdotal evidence establish that Sgt. Gay was also driving in a like manner, exercising due caution.
Involved officers stated that while they had to moderate pursuit speeds to safely negotiate traffic hazards, the suspect vehicle continued flat out at a high rate of speed and began to open distance between himself and the pursuing units as the pursuit progressed.
The investigation also determined that all police units involved in the pursuit utilized emergency lights and sirens continuously. This is evidenced by sirens heard in the background during radio transmissions and by accounts of witnesses at the scene of the crash at 10th Street.
As the pursuit entered the downtown area on Fifth Avenue, the suspect vehicle was out ahead of the pursuing units by a considerable distance and there was considerable distance between each of the pursuing units. GPS data indicates that at the time of the crash involving Sgt. Gay’s Vehicle at 10th Street, the secondary HPD Unit was a city block behind at 9th Street, with HPD Units in the middle of the 700 block and a HPD Unit in the rear approaching 6th Street.
At this time we are not able to determine with any degree of certainty, the speed of Sgt. Gay’s cruiser at the instant of the crash. At the time the crash occurred, GPS data indicated that the secondary unit was traveling 36MPH and slowing. This is consistent with the manner in which the vehicles were driven throughout the previous portion of the pursuit, with the officers slowing as they encountered traffic or controlled intersections, and then accelerating back to pursuit speeds.
The investigation has determined at this point, that Sgt. Gay entered the intersection of 10th Street on Fifth Avenue, at approximately 3:38 p.m., the left front of his cruiser collided with the right front of a 2010 Toyota Corolla traveling South on 10th Street. The driver of the Corolla stated that she had a green light and that she had no indication of an impending collision and that she did not hear a siren. As momentum carried Sgt. Gay’s cruiser through the intersection it was struck in the area of the right rear wheel by a 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis traveling north on 10th street.
Note:This corner of Fifth Avenue is surrounded by large buildings close to the street which obviously have a significant effect on the way that sound carries. The Herald Dispatch building’s east wall is 13.3 feet from the roadway and the front is 30.3 feet from Fifth Avenue. Additionally, Tenth Street has a significant uphill grade approaching Fifth Avenue. These environmental features similarly restrict what can be seen of the intersecting roadways by approaching drivers.
It is clear from the evidence gathered at the scene and from statements of involved drivers and witnesses that Sgt. Gay, using his emergency lights and siren, attempted to cross the intersection against the light. It is also clear from the evidence and witness accounts that the drivers of the Corolla and Mercury failed to yield the right of way to Sgt. Gay’s emergency vehicle operating its emergency lights and siren.
A subsequent investigation by HPD CIB has linked the suspect of the pursuit to at least 14 reported thefts of spare tires, occurring over the last two weeks. The suspect has been charged in three of those cases and future charges are imminent.
This investigation is ongoing and no other information will be released at this time."
Merritt is charged with one count of felony fleeing, one count of misdemeanor fleeing and one count of misdemeanor obstructing an officer related to the chase.
He also faces additional unrelated charges of misdemeanor destruction of property, petit larceny, auto tampering.
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Anthony Merritt, 34, of Huntington, was initially charged with fleeing resulting in the injury of an officer following his arrest about 8 p.m. Thursday. Additional charges are expected to filed on Friday.
The pursuit began in the west end of Huntington about 3:30 p.m. and headed up 5th Avenue.
During the pursuit, a Cabell County Sheriff’s Deputy was involved in an accident with two other vehicles at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 10th Street. Sgt. Larry Gay was the deputy involved in the crash. He and two people in the cars were hurt and taken to the hospital.
Sheriff Tom McComas tells WSAZ.com that the crash is still under investigation. But, with the information available he believes Gay was operating within, and following, department guidelines.
Pamela Paynter could not believe her eyes. She watched what looked to be a Hollywood movie play out on the streets of Huntington. Complete with a wild crash on 5th Avenue and 10th Street.
"When he went by I guess I went down the road to see how far he made it. I guess he got away because I don't see the car," said Paynter.
Merritt did get away for awhile. His car was found in Guyandotte behind Java Joes on Route 2. But, that was after he went right by HPD headquarters, under the viaduct, past two school buses, east on 8th Avenue and onto 31st Street. Once that Grand Am was found, the HPD K-9 unit tracked his scent and detectives took it from there.
Officers from several police agencies then began a search for the driver in the Guyandottte area.
Information was then obtained to a possible located of where Merritt may be hiding. A multi-agency group then converged on an abandoned home in the 3400-block of Bridge Street in Guyandotte. That's where they found Merritt hiding in a crawl space under the home.
Merritt -- a man well known by police for a laundry list of past charges -- was taken into custody. After he was picked up, he said he was full of remorse.
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West Virginia State Police tell WSAZ.com that the Huntington Police Department initiated a chase after they believe they saw a man breaking into a car in the west end of Huntington.
The suspect led police on a chase and the Cabell County Sheriff's Department and WVSP began to assist in the chase.
During the chase, a deputy cruiser and two vehicles were involved in an accident on 5th Ave. and 10th Street.
The vehicle officers were chasing was a red Pontiac.
Officers lost the suspect for a short period during the chase and later found the car on Route 2 just past the flood wall. Police found the car in a parking lot of a business.
Investigators believe they are searching for a man. They are searching along the flood wall and river in the area were the car was found.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.