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Driver caught following chase, crash on bridge

November 12, 2010

EAST LIVERPOOL - After crashing his vehicle into an ambulance on the Newell Bridge Thursday afternoon, an area man was charged by city police and taken to county jail.

Robert Todd Heath, 40, Cannons Mill Road, was being pursued by Hancock County, W.Va., sheriff's deputies when he headed across the bridge for the Ohio side, driving a small SUV.

Hancock Sgt. J. Keeder said Deputy Chad Lamp had stopped the Geo Tracker driven by Heath for failure to yield in the 500 block of Washington Street in Newell. Keeder said Heath stopped briefly, then pulled away, headed north.

Keeder joined the pursuit, and he and Lamp followed as Heath turned onto and crossed the Newell Bridge. Just before arriving at the toll booth, Heath's vehicle hit the rear of a New Cumberland ambulance, becoming wedged between the ambulance and bridge railing, where he was apprehended by the officers.

Keeder said Heath tried to squeeze between the ambulance and the side of the bridge, but the Tracker didn't fit. Instead, Heath bailed out of the car through the driver's side window and began to run before being caught by the deputies.

During the pursuit, the officers made a 911 call to the East Liverpool Police Department and reported the suspect was headed their way.

City police officers arrived at the bridge and determined the crash actually had occurred in Ohio, then began inventorying Heath's vehicle.

Inside, they found a .22-caliber rifle equipped with a scope and ammunition that police Chief Mike McVay said was "readily at hand," which is illegal in Ohio. Also found by Patrolman Jim Krawiec was a baggie with a small amount of suspected marijuana inside.

Keeder said Hancock County charges against Heath include a previous warrant for destruction of property resulting from a fight in which he allegedly was involved, and the new charges Thursday of failure to yield, driving without a license (suspended), fleeing an officer, reckless operation, a red light violation, battery on an officer, obstructing an officer, and marijuana possession.

East Liverpool police charged him Thursday as a fugitive from justice, and with possession of marijuana, improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, assured clear distance and no driver's license, as well as an outstanding warrant out of Columbiana County for failure to appear.

He was transported to county jail by a Columbiana County Sheriff's deputy.

McVay said he thought another ambulance was notified immediately to transport the patient from the ambulance involved in the crash, but it appeared the ambulance crew actually pushed the patient on the gurney across the remaining portion of the bridge and up the street to nearby East Liverpool City Hospital.

Meanwhile, it took the efforts of police officers and a tow truck driver to disentangle Heath's vehicle from the ambulance, which appeared to have suffered minor scuffing damage to the side and was driven away. The front of Heath's vehicle appeared to be heavily damaged and was towed from the scene.


Staff writer Nancy Tullis contributed to this report.



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