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Virginia Sheriff's Captain Recounts High-Speed Chase

 

July 28--A high-speed chase that followed a James City County robbery Tuesday ended in a hail of gunfire blocks from the Richmond city line in eastern Henrico County, according to witnesses, leaving one suspect near death and another man, who earlier had run from police, still at large Wednesday.

A lone Charles City County sheriff's captain, meanwhile, is being credited with locating the suspects as they traveled toward Richmond on a little-used roadway and then tried to escape police at speeds up to 100 mph.

"They took off like a bat out of hell," said Capt. Jayson Crawley, describing what happened when the two suspects reached the Interstate 295 interchange with state Route 5.

Crawley, a 13-year Sheriff's Office veteran and one of only nine officers in the county of 7,250 people, located the two men riding in a dark SUV moments after he received a radio alert and ventured from his office onto Route 5 about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday.

"If I'd been a few seconds later, I would have missed them," Crawley said. He followed the SUV in his unmarked cruiser at the speed limit for several miles into Henrico, alerting law-enforcement officers in adjoining counties and the Virginia State Police as the two vehicles traveled toward Richmond. He said he knew after talking with James City County authorities that he was dealing with dangerous people.

Both robbers were armed and had shown no fear as they took over the jewelry store in James City County wearing stocking masks and bound employees and a repairman with zip ties. Authorities said the two men demanded Rolex watches and diamonds.

"We've become a sort of escape route for criminals," Crawley said Wednesday of Charles City, a county hemmed in between the Richmond and Williamsburg metropolitan areas. "They think they can get out in the country and no one is watching."

Henrico police said they are still looking for Eric D. Roach, 40, of Philadelphia, who is described in federal court documents as a felon with a history of convictions for interstate transportation of stolen goods. He was sentenced to 44 months in prison and in June 2009 began three years of supervised probation.

Roach also was ordered to make restitution of $484,031, according to federal documents filed in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Roach pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to steal more than $880,000 worth of Cartier and Rolex watches and diamond jewelry in California, Las Vegas and Miami in 2001 and 2002, according to court records.

Roach bailed out of the SUV on Tuesday afternoon as a still-unidentified accomplice opened fire and exchanged shots with pursuing police in eastern Henrico on Technology Boulevard, according to Henrico police.

Crawley said he chased the two men as they traveled east on Williamsburg Road after exiting off I-295, then traveled south down the wrong lane of Technology Boulevard before engaging police in a firefight that slightly injured a state trooper.

"I couldn't tell who was firing and I picked up the chase when the car continued down Technology," said Crawley, who was assisted by other officers at that point.

Crawley continued the pursuit onto Portugee Road, traveling west toward Richmond International Airport and then west on Charles City Road toward Richmond. By then, the SUV was being followed by motorcycle police, Crawley and as many as a dozen Henrico and state police patrol cars, he said.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Kenny Farmer, who was traveling in the opposite direction when the cavalcade of speeding vehicles, flashing lights and sirens reached a steeply humped railroad crossing at Monahan Road.

"I saw the SUV coming at me and, when it went over the railroad tracks, it went airborne with all four wheels off the ground. They were at least 3 feet up in the air. I was watching in my rearview and saw he was able to keep the SUV under control."

Crawley said the SUV eventually crashed into the front yard of an abandoned home on Charles City Road near Williamsburg Road. He pulled his gun and backed off, letting Henrico officers move forward.

"I know there was 15 to 20 shots fired," said Wayne Hall, a nearby resident who heard two distinct bursts of rapid gunfire 100 yards up Charles City Road and out of sight from his home.

Another witness said he watched three Henrico officers using handguns approach the SUV from an unprotected position on the roadway and open fire. "It was over in a matter of seconds," the witness said.

Crawley said he heard officers yelling for the driver of the vehicle to come out with his hands in the air but saw no movement from the car. It was unclear from Crawley, Hall or the third witness, who asked not to be identified out of concern for his safety, who initiated the shooting.

Seconds after the firing stopped, Hall said, he watched the SUV roar onto Charles City Road again and swerve into a driveway of the Library of Virginia's state records center. "But it couldn't make the turn 'cause it was going so fast and ended up slamming into that tree right there," Hall said, pointing across Charles City Road from his porch.

A sniper later used Hall's porch as a vantage point, pulling an old lawn chair in front of him for cover. "They made us leave in an armored car," said Hall, who was with his girlfriend and her son.

There was no indication that additional shots were fired after the driver first was surrounded by police near Williamsburg Road.

On Wednesday, the second crash site was a littered bed of broken car parts and empty medical packaging. Henrico detectives searched for forensic evidence at the initial crash site.

Henrico police confirmed that three officers have been placed on administrative duty as an investigation into all aspects of the shooting gets under way. The driver of the SUV suffered life-threatening injuries and remained on life support Wednesday at VCU Medical Center in Richmond. Henrico Lt. Eric Owens said the nature of the injuries and the shooting remain under investigation.

Residents of eastern Henrico were being urged to use caution. Police searched unoccupied homes and buildings for signs of Roach, whose Pennsylvania driver's license was found near where he fled on foot, police said.

Crawley said Wednesday that he doesn't often see the level of intensity that occurred Tuesday.

"But it's a part of the job I do and that's what we're here for," he said.

bmckelway@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6601

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