Man in pursuit that ended in crash in Walla Walla ruled competent for trial

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WALLA WALLA — A man who suffered severe head injuries in a vehicle crash after allegedly leading police on a high-speed chase in early 2012 has been found mentally competent for his criminal case to proceed.

Vernon Ray Johnson Jr. was ordered early this year to undergo an evaluation at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake.

Based on the findings, Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann signed an order Monday afternoon declaring Johnson competent, and set his trial to begin May 29.

Johnson, 32, is charged with vehicular assault, attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and possessing methamphetamine — all felonies. He also is charged with use of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.

His trial may be lengthy, with the prosecution expected to call at least 13 witnesses to testify, according to a court document.

Officials said Johnson was driving a stolen Honda Accord when he led police on the Feb. 19, 2012, 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, was hospitalized for treatment of arm and rib fractures, but Johnson was the most seriously hurt.

He 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 on probation violations from previous convictions and charged Sept. 5 with the crimes related to the February chase.

Johnson was held at the Washington State Penitentiary until he was transported to the County Jail on Sept. 21. Bail was set at $100,000.

Co-defendant Myranda R. York, 24, who was a passenger in the stolen Honda, was ordered to serve an 18-month prison term.

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