Eluder pleads guilty; faces years in prison

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WALLA WALLA — A driver who crashed into a moving vehicle while leading police on a high-speed chase in the city early last year pleaded guilty Thursday to two felony charges.

Vernon Ray Johnson Jr. admitted guilt in Walla Walla County Superior Court to vehicular assault and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

He faces a standard-range prison sentence of 5 1/4 to seven years based on his extensive criminal record when he’s sentenced later.

In a plea agreement, the prosecution is recommending the midpoint — or a little more than six years ­— and agreed to drop additional charges of attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, possessing methamphetamine and use of drug paraphernalia.

The prosecution also will ask that Johnson be required to undergo drug treatment as part of his community custody conditions.

Officials said Johnson, 32, 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.

But Johnson, who suffered severe head injuries, 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.

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

Johnson was ordered early this year to undergo a mental evaluation conducted by staff members from Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake.

He subsequently was found competent for his case to proceed.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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