WATAUGA — A suspect is in custody after a police chase involving a stolen John Deere tractor and multiple agencies Tuesday morning.
Ronnie Hicks, 43, of Boone, has been arrested and charged with multiple offenses after he led police on a chase in Boone and down onto Elk Creek Road, according to Boone Police Chief Andy Le Beau. BPD is very familiar with the suspect as Le Beau said their officers frequently encounter him.
Hicks was charged with felony flee/elude arrest, felony assault on a government official with a deadly weapon, misdemeanor resisting public officer, reckless driving-wanton disregard, misdemeanor DWI and a driving left of center infraction.
Hicks received a $50,000 secured bond and was issued a March 10 court date.
Major Kelly Redmon of the Watauga County Sheriff's Office said the investigation into the tractor larceny is still ongoing, but they have identified the victim of the theft. Redmon said there also may be additional charges regarding a break in that occurred regarding a break in at Radford Quarries during the same time frame.
Le Beau said a taser was deployed when they were arresting Hicks, but that neither Hicks nor anyone else was hurt.
The chase started shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday when Le Beau said officers were dispatched to a tractor that was driven erratically in a parking lot allegedly trying to hit pedestrians and hit vehicles on U.S. 421 in the eastern part of Boone. The 911 call center received a call at approximately 9:25 a.m. "about a male on a John Deere tractor trying to strike pedestrians and vehicles in the vicinity of 1636 US Hwy 421 S in Boone. Several other calls were received in rapid succession reporting vehicles being struck by the tractor."
The first arriving Boone unit located the tractor at Three Forks Baptist Church in the parking lot. Hicks had pushed a dumpster into the building just prior to the arrival of the officers. When the officers tried to stop Hicks, he refused, and began driving back onto US Hwy 421 S traveling towards Wilkes County which resulted in a low-speed pursuit, according to Boone Police.
Le Beau said Hicks was driving the tractor and was allegedly “intentionally” driving toward vehicles coming down U.S. 421.
“Our officers tried to use stop sticks but because it’s a tractor, the stop sticks were not effective on the back tires,” Le Beau said. “When he got outside of town into an area that didn’t have any homes or businesses, we did shoot one of the tractor tires in an effort to get the vehicle stopped.”
The stop sticks deflated both front tires with one tire separating from the rim.
The shooting — from a rifle fired by a Boone officer once the tractor was in an isolated location — came at Le Beau's authorization as they were worried about Parkway School and did not want Hicks to get that far. Le Beau said officers were not going to let him to get to the school as they were worried about students and the motoring public. The use of force was directed at the tractor and not at Hicks, according to Boone Police.
"Before we even arrived on the scene, he had been driving erratically through a parking lot, tried to hit some people did hit one of their vehicles, rammed into a dumpster rammed into a church," Le Beau said. "We were very concerned. It's a pretty large tractor and so we were concerned for our citizens."
Even with flat tires, Le Beau said Hicks was able to get down Elk Creek Road before he turned down a private drive and ran out of room. Le Beau said Hicks was allegedly brandishing a knife and tried to flee on foot after he came to a stop. A taser was deployed after officers issued verbal commands, but it did not make good contact, according to Le Beau.
During the chase, Le Beau said Hicks allegedly rammed one of the Boone PD officers. At least three civilian cars, a dumpster and a church were also hit, but Le Beau did not know how many as of publication. Le Beau said speeds got up to between 20 to 25 mph, but once the tires were shot out it was a “kind of wild and slow ride.”
Boone Police will conduct an internal investigation to ensure that the department's policies and procedures regarding use of force were adhered to since a firearm was discharged. Le Beau said they would also work closely with the District Attorney.
The Boone Police vehicle that was hit did receive some damage and Le Beau said the frame "has probably been" bent. He said they would be examining the damage further to see if it could be salvaged.
Boone Police, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and the NC State Highway Patrol were involved in the chase.
"We are grateful for the assistance from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol during this incident. We are also thankful that no injuries occurred during this incident," Le Beau said. "We have already been in contact with the District Attorney to insure that a proper investigation is complete for our internal reviews and for his office to review. I fully believe that our officers’ quick actions and professionalism kept anyone from getting injured or killed including and specifically the suspect, who endangered the lives of many in our community."
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