Eyewitness AccountsWitnesses describe cars speeding through town's streets
By Joe Beck
A Middletown police officer suffered minor injuries in a crash while chasing a suspect through downtown Strasburg at 9:35 p.m. Thursday.
Middletown Chief R. Philip Breeden said officers in two squad cars chased the suspect from Middletown into Strasburg. He said the suspect was wanted on felony warrants from elsewhere in the state and narcotics violations.
Breeden said the male suspect remained at large as of 5 p.m. Friday, but gave no further information about his identity.
Breeden said the chase went south through Strasburg and the downtown construction zone. Seconds later, one of the police cars driven by Cpl. Daniel Manili went off the road at the town limits on Old Valley Pike, Breeden said.
The other Middletown officer broke off the pursuit and went to the crash scene, he said.
Breeden noted, "It was a total loss of the cruiser."
Manili was taken to Winchester Medical Center, treated for minor injuries and released, Breeden said.
Strasburg Police Chief Tim Sutherly said Manili's car hit an embankment and spun around before coming to a rest on all four wheels back in the road.
Breeden said the suspect fled from his vehicle on foot about 11/2 miles south of the crash and added that state police and tracking dogs had tried to find the suspect late into the night.
Breeden credited a side mounted air bag and seat belt for allowing Manili to survive the crash.
"I felt because of those two things, they helped save the officer's life, he said. "He had some cuts and bruises, and he's awfully sore this morning."
Breeden praised Manili and the other officer involved in the chase for doing "an excellent job."
"We did lose a vehicle out of this fiasco, and that's all we lost," he said.
Breeden said he didn't want to comment on the department's chase policy, but then added, "This was a felony subject. That's why we were pursuing him. If it had been a misdemeanor subject, it wouldn't have happened the way it did."
Breeden said a K-9 dog was also in the crashed squad car. The dog was treated and released at a K-9 emergency veterinary clinic, he said.
Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler of the Virginia State Police said at least one trooper joined the chase southbound on U.S. 11 at about 9:20 p.m.
Tyler said the chase began in Middletown, and he referred questions about the suspect's status to the town police department.
Breeden said late Friday morning he was waiting to hear something about the case from the state trooper assigned to investigate the accident. Strasburg police said their involvement was limited mainly to the time the chase entered the town limits until the time of the crash.
He said the incident began as a traffic stop "and then escalated into a narcotics seizure, '' followed by the discovery that the suspect was wanted in two other jurisdictions.
Sutherly said three police cars were involved in the chase through Strasburg, one from his own department and two from Middletown. Strasburg Maj. Jerome Robinson estimated speeds reached more than 60 mph.
Sutherly said his officers are given discretion in determining when to chase and for how long. He said the late hour and light traffic may have contributed to the decision by police to chase the suspect.
Sutherly said the short distance between Strasburg and Middletown didn't give the Strasburg officer much time to prepare as the Middletown police and suspect vehicle approached on U.S. 11.
"It definitely wasn't an ideal situation because of the construction zone," Sutherly added.
But if a suspect is not pursued and goes on to commit serious crimes, "we'll be criticized for letting them go," he said. "It's like Catch-22."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org