Vermont State Police Log: Troopers catch driver after chase through three counties

ADDISON COUNTY — A Hinesburg man faces a long slate of charges after Vermont State Police allege he tried to outrun them in a pursuit that ran through three counties on the night of Tuesday, March 10, and into the early morning of March 11.
Vergennes police reported to state police in the New Haven barracks that someone had driven away from a Main Street gas station in a blue Porsche without paying for their gas at around 11:30 p.m. on March 10. State police attempted to stop a suspect vehicle, but it quickly accelerated to speeds of approximately 85 mph in an attempt to elude police.
Police continued pursuing the suspect vehicle for approximately 20 miles, through Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Monkton, Starksboro, Hinesburg and Huntington, where troopers terminated the pursuit as the car traveled into Richmond on Main Road.
Troopers from the New Haven radioed to state police in the Middlesex barracks, letting them know of the pursuit.
At approximately 12:19 a.m. on March 11, state police from Middlesex observed the Porsche traveling eastbound  on Route 2 in Moretown. After attempting to stop the vehicle, the driver led state and local police on a high-speed chase that lasted 38 miles and ended in Hancock. During the chase, troopers report that speeds reached 90 mph and the vehicle drove into the oncoming lane of travel several times.
The Middlesex troopers alerted state police in the Royalton barracks, and they went to Hancock to attempt to stop the car by laying spikes on the road at the intersection of Routes 100 and 125. The driver of the Porsche turned onto a dead-end road in an attempt to avoid the spikes, then attempted to turn around to continue in the opposite direction and struck a state police cruiser.
State police surrounded the Porsche and apprehended the driver, who they identified as Thomas Popke, 36, of Hinesburg.
Police took Popke into custody and lodged him at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility for lack of $5,000 bail.
He was cited into Washington Superior Court in Barre to answer charges of attempting to elude, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, grossly negligent driving, unlawful mischief and excessive speed. The Burlington Free Press reported that Popke pleaded not guilty to those charges on March 11.
He is due in Addison Superior Court, criminal division, on April 6 to answer charges of attempting to elude a police officer, excessive speed and grossly careless and negligent driving.
Popke’s mother, Mary Popke of Hinesburg, told the Free Press that her son is struggling with bipolar disorder and was not taking his medication.
Separately, state police last week engaged in another chase — though much shorter — later that week. On Saturday, March 14, at 1:06 a.m. they attempted to stop a vehicle driven by Donald Catella, 43, of Huntington for traveling at 77 mph in a 40 mph zone on Tyler Bridge Road in Monkton. Catella led state police on a short pursuit that ended with him trying to hide in a driveway on Turkey Lane in Monkton.
Ultimately police charged Catella with attempting to elude, careless and negligent operation, driving under the influence, excessive speed, and providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Police said they found out that Catella was operating the vehicle without the consent of the owner.
Catella refused to submit to a preliminary breath test. He is due to answer the charges in Addison Criminal Superior Court, criminal division, on March 30.
Meanwhile, state police responded to a bad traffic accident in Shoreham on Saturday, March 14.
At around 2 p.m. that day responded to a single-vehicle crash on North Cream Hill Road, south of Lapham Bay Road, in Shoreham. The trooper’s investigation suggested that unlicensed Natachia Goncalves, 18, of New Hampshire had borrowed a friend’s green 1999 Ford pickup truck and was southbound on North Cream Hill Road when she lost control of the vehicle; it crossed the center line, left the roadway and began to roll. Police estimated that the vehicle rolled three or four times before it struck a tree and stopped.
Neither Goncalves nor her passenger, Christopher Hornbeck, were wearing seatbelts.
Goncalves was ejected from the vehicle and was found unconscious approximately 50 feet from the final resting place of the truck. Hornbeck was thrown into the back seat of the truck.
Both driver and passenger were transported to Porter Hospital with injuries, though Hornbeck was later released. Police report that Goncalves suffered a possible broken back, several broken ribs, a concussion and lacerations on her face. She was transported to the UVM Medical Center.
The vehicle was judged a total loss.
State police were assisted on the scene by several local agencies and remind the public of the importance of wearing seatbelts.
Vermont State Police last week announced the formation of a Major Crime Unit within its Criminal Division. The Major Crime Unit will consist of a group of experienced investigators whose primary responsibility will include investigations of homicide, officer-involved shootings, missing persons where foul play is suspected, cold cases involving homicides or missing persons, and other complex criminal investigations deemed appropriate.
While the concept of a Major Crime Unit is new to Vermont, it is consistent with the operations of other state police agencies and large police departments across the country, said Maj. Glenn E. Hall. commander of the VSP Criminal Division. Detectives in the Major Crime Unit will receive additional specialized training directly related to the investigation of major crimes.
The formation of the Major Crime Unit involved a re-structuring of existing positions currently within the VSP Criminal Division and is not the result of any new positions, Hall said. A total of five detectives have been assigned to the Major Crime Unit, supervised by Detective Lt. Kraig LaPorte, a 26-year veteran of the department. The Major Crime Unit will be supported by the Crime Scene Search Team and all other BCI detectives across the state as needed.
In other recent activity, troopers:
•  On March 10 at approximately 1:49 p.m. responded, along with Vergennes police, to a two-vehicle crash on Route 7 near Middlebrook Road in Waltham. Officers said that they determined that a 2009 Ford Ranger driven by Robert Cota, 25, of Burlington was traveling northbound when it crossed the center line and swiped a southbound 2010 Toyota Prius driven by Eliza Laroccca, 30, of Bristol. No injuries were reported, though both vehicles were damaged. State police are continuing to investigate the crash. Anyone with information is asked to contact Vermont State Police, New Haven, at 802-388-4919 or submit an anonymous tip online at www.vtips.info.
•  On March 12 at 1:19 a.m. responded to the northbound lanes of Interstate 91 in Windsor for a two-vehicle crash involving a 2014 Freightliner box truck driven by 46-year-old Jeffrey Frazier of Brandon and a 2002 GMC pickup driven by 59-year-old Johnny Watkins of Springfield. The trooper said his investigation showed that both vehicles were in the right lane, and Watkins was driving about 45 mph, when Frazier’s truck struck Watkins’ vehicle from behind. Both drivers sustained minor injuries but neither was taken to the hospital. Trooper Graham of the Rockingham barracks said that Frazier violated a Vermont driving law by following too closely, but added that no traffic ticket was issued.
•  On March 14 at approximately 3:45 a.m. troopers were at a residence on Handly Street in East Granville investigating a vehicle that had gone off the road in nearby Braintree. While at the residence troopers located Joseph Lumbra, 50, of East Granville, who had an active warrant for civil contempt of court, which was issued on May 6, 2013, by the Orange County Superior Court. Police arrested Lumbra without incident and lodged him at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.
• On March 14 at 6 p.m. responded to a complaint at a Route 125 home in Bridport. The trooper had reason to believe that Jamie Sinclair, 44, of Monkton had consumed alcohol before driving to the residence. Sinclair submitted to standard field sobriety tests and a preliminary breath test, which showed his blood alcohol content at 0.088 percent; the legal limit for driving is 0.08. The trooper took Sinclair into custody and cited him for driving under the influence, second offense.
•  On March 15 at 10:41 p.m. received a report of a citizen dispute at a Route 7 residence in Salisbury. Further investigation led police to arrest Reva L. McCray, 23, of Salisbury and cite her for domestic assault. Victims declined medical attention. McCray was lodged at Chittenden County Correctional Center.

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