High-speed chase lands man in prison

Virgil D. O'Neel was ordered to serve 18 months behind bars for a chase in March 2009.

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WALLA WALLA -- A man convicted by a jury of leading a police officer on a chase into Oregon in March of last year was sentenced Monday afternoon to a year-and-a-half in prison.

Virgil D. O'Neel, 48, was ordered to serve near the midpoint of the 15- to 20-month sentencing range he faced, but was given credit for 28 days served while not out of jail on bail.

In handing down the sentence, Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann declined to go along with a request by defense attorney Gail Siemers that O'Neel be evaluated to determine if a special sentencing option reducing incarceration and mandating drug treatment would be appropriate in his case.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney April King objected to the request, pointing to O'Neel's criminal history that includes three previous felonies and the danger O'Neel's actions posed during the pursuit. She was recommending O'Neel serve a 20-month prison term.

O'Neel was found guilty at a trial July 19 of attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle and third-degree driving while license suspended.

Officials said the March 9, 2009, pursuit began just after 5 p.m. when the College Place officer tried to pull over a black Mazda pickup that O'Neel was driving in the 1700 block of South College Avenue. The vehicle reportedly had expired license plates.

O'Neel didn't stop, went south on state Route 125 and onto the Old Milton Highway, where he passed several vehicles in a no-passing area and accelerated to at least 80 mph in the 40-mph zone, officials said. The Mazda nearly collided with another vehicle by blowing through the four-way stop at Stateline Road, then turned onto Ballou and Winesap roads, according to a police report filed in court.

The pickup was found parked in grass off Winesap. With the help of sheriff's deputies, O'Neel was apprehended trying to hide in a van parked off Ballou.

O'Neel was wanted on a warrant from the Washington State Department of Corrections and told the police officer that's why he ran. "He stated that it was stupid to run, and he was sorry that he caused many dangerous situations," according to the police report.

O'Neel -- who reportedly lived in Milton-Freewater at the time of the chase, but now lists an address in Mattawa, Wash. -- was jailed in Oregon after his arrest. He was charged in Walla Walla County in June 2009, but his whereabouts weren't known at the time.

He was located and booked into the County Jail this May, but later was released on bail.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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