— A 49-year-old Fort Worth man, who had a wreck after a high-speed chase with Willow Park police officers on Interstate 20 last November, was convicted Wednesday of evading arrest or detention with a vehicle and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
An Erath County man testified Tuesday that he called 911 after Eli Vernon III attempted to sell him some jewelry that Vernon said was purchased with a stolen credit card. The caller followed Vernon from the Weatherford truck stop where he was solicited and onto I-20 until a police officer could get behind Vernon to pull him over to investigate.
When two Willow Park officers attempted to stop Vernon’s black Chevy Impala, he tried to outrun them, heading eastbound on the interstate, crossing the Parker-Tarrant county line at speeds up to 107 mph while weaving in and out of traffic, according to the officers’ testimony and two dash camera videos that were admitted into evidence.
Shortly after passing the Linkcrest exit, Vernon attempted to get around another vehicle and lost control, crossing all three lanes of traffic, striking a center median, ricocheting back across all three lanes, spinning and then returning to the center area where he struck a light pole.
“When I first watched the end of the police chase video, I flinched, thinking that I was about to see a big wreck,” said Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant District Attorney Abby Placke. “It’s a miracle nobody was hurt.”
After police handcuffed him, Vernon told officers he thought their Dodge Charger police cruisers were actually the same Dodge Charger that was used to try to rob him a month prior.
“We thought that defense was ridiculous,” Placke said. “Unlike the mystery robbery Charger, if there ever was one, these two police vehicles had lots of red and blue police lights and sirens.”
During the punishment phase of trial, prosecutors introduced evidence showing that Vernon had been to prison five different times for a total of eight felony convictions. His federal probation officer also testified that Vernon had been released from the federal penitentiary just seven months prior to his latest arrest. Among Vernon’s prior convictions were four robberies, two drug possession charges, one drug distribution case and a burglary of a vehicle.
“This defendant is a habitual offender two-and-a-half times over,” Swain said. “The jurors in this case stepped forward on behalf of our community and said we’ve had enough.”
Jurors deliberated about an hour before returning their guilty verdict and a little over an hour before assessing Vernon’s sentence at 50 years in prison.
Due to a jury finding that the way that he drove his vehicle during the pursuit could have caused death or serious bodily injury, Vernon will not be eligible to be paroled until 2038, Swain said.
43rd District Judge Craig Towson presided over the trial.