Driver sentenced in chase, crash

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WALLA WALLA — A man who was severely injured when a stolen car he was driving crashed into a moving vehicle while leading police on a high-speed chase in the city early last year is heading to prison for more than six years after his sentencing Monday afternoon.

Vernon Ray Johnson Jr., 32, was ordered to serve 73 1/2 months, which is the midpoint of the standard range of 5 1/4 to seven years he faced based on his extensive criminal record.

Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann also placed Johnson on a year of community custody, a form of probation, after his release.

Before Lohrmann imposed the sentence, which was recommended by the prosecution in a plea agreement, Johnson said, “I want to apologize for everything I’ve done.”

His attorney, Gail Siemers, added there has been a “real change” in Johnson’s personality after suffering severe head injuries in the crash. He is gentler and has discovered “that people do matter,” Siemers said.

“I’m hoping he can really put himself back together.”

She asked Lohrmann to impose the low end of the standard range, but he declined, pointing to a typewritten page of crimes Johnson has committed in the past.

“I’m really hopeful that you’ve had a change of heart,” Lohrmann told the defendant.

Johnson pleaded guilty May 23 to vehicular assault and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. In exchange, additional charges of attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, possessing methamphetamine and use of drug paraphernalia were dropped.

Officials said he 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 northbound 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.

Johnson 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.

He was held at the Washington State Penitentiary until he was transported to the County Jail on Sept. 21.

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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