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Trucker charged in multistate chase waives preliminary hearing in Pa.

December 30, 2010|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Tow truck operators begin removal of the tractor-trailer that crashed in the median of Interstate 81 at Pa. 16 following a multistate chase Dec. 20.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A Mississippi truck driver who led police on a wreck-strewn chase last week from Inwood, W.Va., to Greencastle, Pa., waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday in Franklin County Central Court.
 
Thomas L. McNeel, 42, of Pontotoc, Miss., did not appear in court, but signed his waiver before Magisterial District Judge David Plum.

Had he proceeded with a preliminary hearing, police would have had to present enough evidence before a magisterial district judge to have the case forwarded to Common Pleas Court.

He has been scheduled for mandatory arraignment in Franklin County Common Pleas Court on Feb. 9, Assistant District Attorney Bret Beynon said.

“I think Mr. McNeel recognizes that the preliminary hearing is not a trial,” Assistant Public Defender Tony Miley said. “He realizes that a hearing would certainly not serve his legal interests at this time .... A trial could serve his legal interests down the road.”

In Pennsylvania, McNeel is charged with fleeing and eluding police, intent to possess a contraband substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, reckless driving and a list of other traffic offenses.

At 8:22 a.m. on Dec. 20, dispatchers in Berkeley County, W.Va., received the first call of a tractor-trailer being driven erratically on northbound Interstate 81.

Once the truck entered Washington County in Maryland, police put down “stop sticks” to deflate some of the tires on the big rig, but the driver continued on into Pennsylvania.

The truck came to a stop near Exit 5 outside of Greencastle shortly after 9 a.m., after forcing several vehicles off the road in West Virginia and Maryland, police in those states said.

Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Josh McCauley said he was standing on the shoulder of the highway preparing to throw out stop sticks when the tractor-trailer pushed one vehicle into another and then swerved onto the shoulder in his direction.

 “I didn't stand there. I took off,” McCauley said last week.
 Once the rig came to a halt in the median of I-81 in Franklin County, police smashed the window of the cab, stunned McNeel with a Taser and sent in a police dog to take him into custody after he refused to exit the cab.
 
Pennsylvania State Police found a white powdery substance and a plastic straw on McNeel, and they allege he admitted to taking methamphetamine, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

While McNeel is in custody on $250,000 bond in Franklin County Jail, he also faces charges in West Virginia and Maryland.

McNeel is charged in West Virginia with felony reckless indifference to safety or property while fleeing and fleeing while driving under the influence, according to the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department.

In Maryland, state police charged McNeel with four counts each of first- and second-degree assault, two counts of failure to stop after an accident, fleeing and eluding police, negligent driving and careless driving.

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