Man charged in high-speed chase, injury wreck in city

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WALLA WALLA — A man suspected of leading police on a high-speed vehicle chase last winter resulting in an injury crash has been charged in Superior Court with five related crimes.

Vernon Ray Johnson Jr., 32, is accused of vehicular assault, attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and possessing methamphetamine — all felonies. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of use of drug paraphernalia.

The charges were filed Wednesday. Bail was set at $100,000.

Officials said Johnson was driving a stolen Honda Accord when he led police on the Feb. 19 chase that began on South Wilbur Avenue and ended when the Honda plowed into a pickup at Bryant Avenue and Howard Street. Meth reportedly was found in the Honda.

The pickup’s driver, Jeffrey H. Callow, 62, was hospitalized for treatment of arm and rib fractures, but Johnson was the most seriously hurt.

He suffered severe head trauma and lately had been at an undisclosed rehabilitation facility until he walked away around Aug. 17 and disappeared, officials said.

He was arrested Aug. 22 in Walla Walla and taken to the Washington State Penitentiary to await a Department of Corrections disciplinary hearing related to probation violations from 2006 criminal convictions.

He had not been charged in connection with the February chase because of concerns about his mental competence and the possibility Walla Walla County would have to pay for his medical treatment indefinitely.

However, Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle told the Union-Bulletin on Thursday he now believes Johnson is competent and able to proceed in a criminal case.

“According to his community corrections officer, Mr. Johnson had no problem understanding the nature of his (probation) violation hearing at the Penitentiary hospital and had no problem participating and arguing in the hearing,” Nagle wrote in an email.

Johnson faced a sanction of up to 30 days for the probation violations.

At some point, he will have his first appearance in court on the criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Myranda R. York, 23, who was a passenger in the stolen Honda, is awaiting a court hearing to determine if a special drug-offender sentencing alternative she received related to the chase and crash will be revoked.

In August, she allegedly aborted a six-month, inpatient treatment program she was ordered to undergo. She was apprehended in Walla Walla on Aug. 26 and now faces the possibility of a prison sentence of a year-and-a-day to 18 months.

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