By: Charles Boothe, Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PRINCETON — A Mercer County Sheriff’s Office deputy has been reinstated after being suspended in connection with a high-speed police pursuit on Jan. 24.
That pursuit lasted for more than 30 minutes and involved numerous law enforcement vehicles, two roadblocks, a near-miss head-on collision between the vehicle being pursued and a motorist, and an eventual crash of the vehicle being pursued.
Speeds during that chase reached 130 mph.
Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said Dep. M.T. Hatfield, who was suspended with pay shortly after the chase, has been reinstated.
The specific reasons for the suspension have not been made public.
“The sheriff took some disciplinary action and suspended him,” Sitler said. “He has been reinstated.”
Sheriff Tommy Bailey would not discuss the details of the disciplinary action but confirmed that Hatfield is “back at work.”
At the time of the suspension, Bailey said the sheriff’s’ office was doing an internal investigation of the chase. Hatfield was the first on the scene after the crash and participated in the arrest of the driver.
Sitler also said a countywide pursuit policy is being worked on and should be finalized within the next two weeks.
“We were going to meet this morning (Monday),” he said. “But the weather forced us to postpone.”
Sitler said Bluefield Police Chief Dennis Dillow is also out this week and he wants him involved in finalizing the policy.
“He has a very good policy (in Bluefield),” Sitler said, adding that each agency has its own pursuit policy but one thing on the agenda for a countywide policy is an interagency agreement on assistance.
“It’s an interagency assistance protocol modeled after Lincoln County, Oregon,” Sitler said, and involves a requirement to notify the shift supervisor of the initial pursing agency, with the supervisor being more involved in making pursuit decisions.
The number of pursuit vehicles involved are also part of the equation as well as involving 911.
“We don’t have the pursuit policy yet, but we are actively working on it,” he said, adding that sheriff’s office Chief Deputy Joe Parks has been working with him on the policy.
Sitler said a draft of the policy will be sent to each agency before the meeting is held to finalize it.
The chase began in Princeton about 9 p.m. on Jan. 24 after what should have been a routine traffic stop when a vehicle was clocked on radar going 69 mph in a 55 mph zone on Rt. 460.
The car did not pull over and the chase began.
Multiple police vehicles from the county, state police as well as police officers from Princeton and Bluefield became involved, with the chase traveling from Princeton, on Airport Road to Brushfork Road to Falls Mills Road in Virginia and through downtown Bluefield, with many twists, turns, and side roads and streets in between.
During the pursuit, reported speeds topped 100 numerous times, including 110 mph on Airport Road, according to criminal complaints filed by officers involved in the chase.
At one point on Airport Road, the vehicle being pursued made an illegal pass of another car and almost hit one coming in the opposite direction head-on, according to the police reports.
Two road blocks were set up, one on Maple Acres Road in Princeton and the other on Airport Road near Brushfork, but the vehicle skirted around both of them by going off the road.
Hatfield intercepted the vehicle, driven by Ricky Poole, 25, of Princeton on Falls Mills Road, and continued the pursuit in Downtown Bluefield, reaching speeds of 130 MPH on Bluefield Avenue.
Poole’’s car crashed at the intersection of Princeton Avenue and Grassy Branch Road as he tried to make a right turn onto Grassy Branch at a high rate of speed, according to police reports.
Hatfield was the first on the scene and in his report said he “physically removed” Poole from the car and took him to the pavement “face first.”
Poole had injuries, but refused medical treatment, police reports said. But at Poole’s arraignment the following morning, Magistrate William Holroyd noticed injuries to Poole’s face and sent him for treatment.
During that arraignment, Poole’s bond was set at $25,000 cash, but that was reduced later by Circuit Court Judge William Sadler to a $5,000 personal recognizance bond with home confinement.
Sadler also said that Poole will not be allowed to drive during his home confinement.
Poole was charged with fleeing with reckless indifference, obstructing an officer, speeding, nine counts of passing in a no passing zone, failure to keep right, two counts of running a stop sign, two counts of passing on right off roadway, failure to illuminate (no headlights), and other traffic violations.
A preliminary hearing for Poole last month was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled.
A female passenger was in the car with Poole during the chase but she has not been charged.
Each agency involved in the pursuit analyzed it to determine if protocol had been followed.
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