Witness says chase suspect drove like a 'maniac'

February 06, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A television film worker who was riding with a West Virginia State Police trooper during a high-speed pursuit that resulted in the death of a local woman last November said the suspect being chased acted "like an absolute maniac."

Two film producers from the television show "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol" were riding with Trooper Kevin Plumer on the night of Nov. 24 when he became involved in a 12-mile chase on U.S. 11 that exceeded speeds of 107 mph, police records said.

The chase ended in the community of Darkesville when the Nissan 200 SX that police were chasing struck the rear of a Ford Escort, killing the vehicle's driver, police said.


The motorist involved in the pursuit ran numerous cars off the highway, struck a police cruiser, and passed vehicles in the face of oncoming traffic, police reports said.

Police believe the Nissan may have been traveling at about 100 mph when it rear-ended Amanda Marie Smailes' 1989 Ford Escort, killing the 21-year-old Inwood, W.Va., woman.

"He was driving like an absolute maniac, with no regard for human life," said Peter Schmidt, who works for "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol."

"He was out to kill somebody and himself," Schmidt said in written statement to state police.

The footage of the chase was never aired on the television police show, said state police Sgt. Jim Humphrey.

The Herald-Mail Co. filed a Freedom of Information request to view the tape, but state police Superintendent Thomas Kirk turned down the request. Kirk said his agency could not release the tape because it was not a "public record."

Steve McGowan, an attorney representing the state police in the case, said the agency cannot release the tape because the owners have a copyright on the material.

Robert Lee Sparkman Jr., 28, of Gerrardstown, W.Va., the driver of the Nissan, was charged with driving under the influence resulting in death, a felony, according to Berkeley County Magistrate Court records.

A prelminary hearing for Sparkman is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today in Berkeley County Magistrate Court.

It is not known whether the tape will be played in the hearing.

Smailes, a Shepherd College student who was returning home from her job at the Martinsburg Wal-Mart at the time, was killed when her car was forced off the road and into a utility pole near Smileys Inn, police said.

The suspect's car struck a boulder, overturned, and hit a tree in a yard at a nearby house, police said. Sparkman was seriously injured in the accident. He was taken to Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Va., and later treated and released from the West Virginia University Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., officials said.

The chase began about 1 a.m. when Plumer saw a car swerving off the shoulder of U.S. 11 near Inwood, police said. Plumer tried to pull the car over, but the suspect fled at a high rate of speed, police said.

The chase continued to the intersection of U.S. 11, W.Va. 9 and W.Va. 45 near Martinsburg where the suspect attempted to make a left turn onto W.Va. 45 but lost control, spun around in the intersection and collided with Plumer's cruiser, police said.

The pursuit then continued back the opposite direction on U.S. 11 toward Darkesville, police said.

Schmidt and the other film producer, Jim Allen Porter, said there was dust and smoke over the road after the Nissan hit Smailes' car.

"I didn't see where he ended up until we stopped and got out of the cruiser. Once we got out we saw him laying next to his car," said Porter said in a written statement to police.

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