Man arrested after police pursuit
HUNTINGTON — Criminal charges quickly stacked up against a man who became involved in a police pursuit through downtown Huntington Thursday, which resulted in a collision that sent a Cabell County sheriff’s deputy and two other drivers to the hospital.
Anthony Scott Merritt, 34, of Huntington, was arrested just after 8 p.m. Thursday night after authorities found him hiding in a crawl space beneath a home in the 3400 block of Bridge Street in Guyandotte, said West Virginia State Police Sgt. Greg Losh.
Merritt was charged with felony fleeing resulting in the injury of an officer, said Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas. He was incarcerated at the Western Regional Jail on a $100,000 bond Thursday night, but more charges will be filed in connection with an ongoing investigation by the Huntington Police Department, McComas said.
The quick arrest was a direct result of multiple agencies working together, including the state police, the Huntington police, the sheriff’s department and U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive C.U.F.F.E.D. Task Force, Losh said.
“It’s always really nice to see all of the agencies working together, especially when one of their own is put in danger,” Losh said.
Merritt was arrested several weeks ago by U.S. Marshals in Pennsylvania on felony charges, but he had been released from jail, McComas said. The circumstances of those charges and his release were unclear to local authorities Thursday night.
Merritt’s arrest in Cabell County was a direct result of his involvement in the afternoon pursuit and crash, which occurred at the intersection of 10th Street and 5th Avenue at about 3:30 p.m.
Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas said a deputy was fueling his cruiser in Huntington’s West End when he witnessed a traffic violation by a driver in a vehicle that was later identified as Merritt, McComas said.
When the deputy initiated a traffic stop in the 1100 block of Virginia Avenue, Merritt refused to stop the vehicle, and the deputy continued to provide dispatchers with a description of the vehicle.
The deputy’s vehicle was involved in the pursuit when Huntington Police cruisers in the area became involved as officers already were in the area searching for Merritt on unrelated charges, McComas said.
The pursuit ensued eastbound on 5th Avenue, with the sheriff’s vehicle leading the pursuit and two Huntington Police cruisers behind it. All three vehicles were operating their lights and sirens during that time, McComas said.
As the pursuit proceeded through the intersection of 10th Street and 5th Avenue, a red sedan was traveling southbound on 10th Street, and the cruiser and the sedan collided with one another. As a result of that crash, a third vehicle traveling on 10th Street struck the sedan, McComas said.
Witnesses on the scene said the deputy’s cruiser ran a red light traveling east and collided with the first car, but neither McComas nor HPD investigators could confirm that was the case Thursday night.
The collision sent the car spinning and the cruiser into the front yard of the Mountainside Media building.
The deputy and the other two drivers were taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center with injuries that were not life-threatening.
McComas would not confirm the deputy’s identity Thursday evening, pending notification of his family about the incident.
An employee of the BP station at 8th Street and 5th Avenue said he was just arriving at work when he saw the suspect’s vehicle go by at speeds she estimated at 70 miles per hour. Two women in a vehicle behind those involved in the accident questioned why a pursuit was taking place through town at a busy time of day.
McComas said the crash is being investigated by Huntington Police, and he said the results of the investigation will be released once it is complete.
It was the second accident in the region Thursday involving a police pursuit. A Clarksburg man was killed in an accident during a high-speed police chase in Putnam County, according to The Associated Press. The chase began after Hurricane police observed a man suspected of taking items from a store in town around 11:30 a.m., according to Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards.
The suspect was pursued onto Interstate 64 East, with speeds reaching 100 miles per hour, the AP reports. The man’s car turned sideways and hit the back of a parked tractor-trailer as he apparently tried to enter a rest stop, according to the AP. The man was pronounced dead at the scene. Edwards identified him as Jan Dennis Perry, 44. No other injuries were reported.
In the Huntington pursuit, Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook said there are several factors involved in deciding how aggressively to pursue a suspect, including time of day, weather, location and severity of the crime. He said his officers backed off when the pursuit headed into downtown Huntington and were overtaken by the deputy.
The accident closed the intersection and forced traffic to be diverted away from the intersection for more than four hours. Fifth Avenue was back open at 8 p.m.
Holbrook said Merritt was a person of interest after a recent rash of stolen spare tires, which has included the parking garage at St. Mary’s Medical Center, Marshall University and two more from the DirecTV parking lot on 5th Street Road on Wednesday afternoon.
In addition, two other people filed reports with the Huntington Police Department since Tuesday regarding stolen spare tires — one in the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church, 1015 5th Ave., on Tuesday; and the early morning hours of Wednesday while parked in the 1500 block of 7th Avenue.
Surveillance footage was obtained from DirecTV, which showed the suspect’s vehicle, a red Pontiac. Holbrook said the suspect’s vehicle was located in Guyandotte not long after the accident and a search was conducted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.