Evaluation ordered for man in chase

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WALLA WALLA — A mental competency evaluation has been ordered for a man suspected of leading police on a high-speed vehicle chase last winter resulting in an injury crash.

Vernon Ray Johnson Jr., 32, suffered severe head injuries in the wreck. The evaluation will determine if he is competent to stand trial, which now is set for Feb. 20, and assist in his defense.

It will be conducted by staff members from Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake.

The order was signed Tuesday by Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann on a motion by the prosecution.

Johnson 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, 23, who was a passenger in the stolen Honda, is serving an 18-month prison term.

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