By Jesse Wood
Deputies with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office were engaged in another high-speed pursuit on Monday that ended after a single-vehicle wreck in Tennessee.
The suspect vehicle exceeded 110 mph in a car chase that Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman described as people “just being crazy” while putting the public in harms way.
The car chase began after detectives attempted to pullover a black Mitsubishi Eclipse for fake Tennessee tags and various traffic violations on George Wilson Road. Instead of pulling over, the driver, Ronnie Jason Russell, 35, of Piney Flats, Tenn., continued to N.C. 105 Bypass via Hodges Gap Road at speeds up to 70 mph.
Russell turned onto U.S. 421, heading towards Mountain City, Tenn., in the opposite travel lane. The vehicle began passing several vehicles in a non-passing lane near Linville Creek Road. At one point near the Quality Plus gas station in Vilas, the vehicle passed approximately 10 to 15 cars in the wrong lane.
The suspect vehicle then reached speeds of up 80 mph in between Vilas and Skate World at the intersection of U.S. 321 and U.S. 421. After passing Skate World on U.S. 421, a deputy pulled up beside the vehicle in an attempt to ID the driver. However, Russell sideswiped the deputy on the passenger side to keep the officer at bay.
Russell then regained speeds close to 90 mph on the straightaway near the new location for High Country Recycling and passed more vehicles. By the time the suspect vehicle reached Tater Hill it was traveling at nearly 110 mph.
As the vehicle slowed down near the top of a hill, deputies pulled in front of the vehicle in an unsuccessful attempt to “box” it in. The suspect merged into the oncoming-traffic lane as the deputies backed off as the suspect neared Tennessee.
Russell crossed the Tennessee line at 110 mph in a 55-mph zone. Deputies then continued the pursuit into Tennessee as personnel with Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Mountain City Police Department took the lead.
The two Tennessee agencies had U.S. 421 blocked off at the Maymead Quarry, but Russell pulled off the highway and onto a gravel side road to avoid law enforcement.
Upon re-entering U.S. 421, Russell lost control of the vehicle in an embankment. Russell, who didn’t have a license, and passenger, Christopher Sullivan, 21, of Bristol, Tenn., were apprehended. They were not seriously hurt in the wreck, according to Sheriff Hagaman.
Russell was charged with several traffic violations in addition to felony assault with a deadly weapon on a law enforcement officer and felony for fleeing. Sullivan has charges pending.
Monday’s car chase was the second exceeding 100 mph in the past two weeks. The suspect vehicle in the previous pursuit disappeared across the state line. Hagaman said that the high speed pursuits are unrelated.