BENNINGTON — A man who led three police agencies on a chase from Clarendon to Arlington, forcing multiple vehicles off the road and causing several police officers to fear for their lives, is being held without bail.
George Joseph Rodriquez, 39, of Shelburne, pleaded not guilty Monday in Vermont Superior Court Criminal Division to four felony counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer by threat with a deadly weapon, negligent vehicle operation while eluding law enforcement, misdemeanor counts of reckless or gross negligent vehicle operation, leaving the scene of a crash with property damage, a first of offense of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and 28 misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.
Rodriquez will be held until a bail hearing, during which the court will determine what, if any, conditions or bail can be set to ensure public safety and future court appearances.
According to an affidavit by Vermont State Trooper Cody Sholtes, on Sunday at 4:31 p.m. he was patrolling Route 7 in Danby when he received word that a driver, identified as Rodriquez, had fled a crash in Clarendon and was being pursued by Wallingford Constable Nelson Tift, who said the vehicle was going 63 mph in a 30 mph zone.
Sholtes joined the chase in Wallingford and soon watched Rodriquez force several vehicles off the road, then later some more. At 4:50 p.m. Manchester Police Officer Jason Thomas tried to use a spike strip near the Dorset General Store to stop Rodriquez, but it didn't work. Rodriquez nearly hit Manchester Police Sgt. Jamie Blanchard who was in his cruiser.
Rodriquez forced another vehicle off the road and nearly struck the guardrail by Exit 4. His vehicle then went into the northbound lane, nearly hitting a vehicle. A few minutes later, it swerved to avoid a vehicle in the southbound lane and nearly hit a cruiser being driven by Vermont State Trooper Benjamin Barton.
By this time, Sholtes was told by VSP Sgt. Jesse Robson to turn his blue lights and siren off and follow Rodriquez's vehicle.
Rodriquez then took Exit 3 into Arlington and got on Route 313 heading west, driving into the grassy portion of the break-down lane. Rodriquez then went onto Route 7A where Vermont State Troopers Zack Freire and Jon Hall tried to use their cruisers to box Rodriquez in, to no immediate avail. Both cruisers were struck by Rodriquez's vehicle. Eventually police stopped the vehicle and arrested Rodriquez.
A number of supplemental affidavits were filed along with Sholtes'.
Barton wrote that he was planning to lay a spike strip by Lost Lake Road in Arlington to stop Rodriquez, who drove directly at him and his cruiser. "In my almost eight years as a Vermont State Trooper, this was one of the scariest moments of my career. I truly felt my life was in jeopardy at this moment," he wrote.
According to Robson, Rodriquez's behavior, in addition to being reckless, was bizarre. He was seen waving his arms in the air and dancing about in his seat. After he was arrested, he was not responsive to questions and mentioned that he was in Alaska.
Police were able to speak with his parents via phone. They said nothing about mental health issues, but did say Rodriquez has been prescribed narcotics.
Robson wrote that Rodriquez provided a breath sample which showed he had not consumed alcohol. While being screened for other possible drug use, Rodriquez said "Didn't I ask for a lawyer?" which Robson took as a refusal and ended the screening. Robson did say it's his opinion that Rodriquez was under the influence of a drug.
At the arraignment hearing, Rodriquez's attorney, Chris Montgomery, said his client has narcotics prescribed to him for chronic back pain which he has from an old injury. He said Rodriquez has ties to the local community and no history of violence.
The state wanted Rodriquez held, citing previous issues with court appearances.
— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115