Charges in air for man back in custody

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WALLA WALLA — A man suspected of leading police on a high-speed vehicle chase last winter resulting in a crash that seriously injured him won’t face formal charges until officials determine he is well enough to stand trial.

Vernon Ray Johnson — who suffered a severe head injury in the February wreck — was apprehended this week in Walla Walla on alleged probation violations after reportedly walking away from an undisclosed rehabilitation facility a week ago.

But because new charges may not be imminent, it’s not known how long he will be held, where or for what.

Johnson can only be locked up 30 days on the violations. He can’t then be held for alleged crimes related to the crash unless he is charged in court, but he reportedly has detainers from Oregon and Missouri for probation or parole violations in those jurisdictions.

Johnson left rehab on or about Aug. 17 and disappeared, according to local Community Corrections Supervisor Ben Brink.

Johnson, 32, was not in lockdown. But officials were notified, information was gathered and a Department of Corrections warrant was issued for his arrest based on failing to comply with supervision requirements stemming from 2006 convictions of possessing drugs and stolen property.

After Johnson was taken into custody Wednesday in the 500 block of Catherine Street, he was taken to the Washington State Penitentiary hospital to await a DOC disciplinary hearing.

The warrant accuses Johnson of changing his residence without authorization, failing to report to his community corrections officer in Kennewick and failing to provide a urine sample, according to Brink.

The longest amount of time DOC can hold him on the violations is 30 days, Brink said this morning. Johnson then would be released — still with probationary conditions — unless another law enforcement agency detains him.

Citing health-related confidentiality laws, Brink wouldn’t disclose Johnson’s medical condition. However, questions remain about Johnson’s mental competence.

Although taxpayers in general and medical facilities or consumers have paid for Johnson’s treatment to date, Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle is reluctant to shift the financial burden directly to the county without further information.

“We are not filing charges (related to February’s crash) until we have some reliable medical proof that (Johnson) has sufficiently recovered from the collision to stand trial,” Nagle wrote Thursday in an email to the Union-Bulletin.

“Otherwise, the county will have to pay for his medical expenses while everyone waits to see if he recovers.”

Johnson was driving a stolen Honda Accord when he led police on the Feb. 19 chase before plowing into a pickup at Bryant Avenue and Howard Street, police said.

The pickup’s driver, Jeffrey H. Callow, 62, was hospitalized for treatment of his injuries, but Johnson was the most seriously injured.

His passenger, Myranda R. York, 23, pleaded guilty in April to being an accomplice to attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, an accomplice to vehicular assault and to possessing methamphetamine found in the vehicle.

But earlier this month, she allegedly aborted a six-month, inpatient drug-offender treatment program she was ordered to undergo as part of her sentence.

She was not with Johnson when he was apprehended Wednesday and was still at large this morning, Brink said. He added that his agency is actively following up on leads.

“I would guess she’s not too far away,” he said.

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