Man awaits sentencing after conviction in chase

Virgil D. O'Neel was found guilty last week in connection with a pursuit from College Place into Oregon.

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WALLA WALLA -- A man is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of leading a College Place police officer on a chase into Oregon in March last year.

In a trial July 19, a Walla Walla County Superior Court jury found Virgil D. O'Neel guilty of attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle and third-degree driving while license suspended.

Officials said the pursuit began just after 5 p.m. March 9, 2009, when the 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, 48, 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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