Friday, March 31, 2023

Man accused of running over trooper pleads not guilty to all charges

The Western News | March 17, 2023 7:00 AM

A man with seemingly nothing to lose, Jason Allen Miller reportedly told a female passenger in his truck that he was not going back to prison shortly before he allegedly ran a Montana Highway Patrol trooper over last month near Rexford.

Jason Allen Miller, 41, pleaded not guilty to five felony charges Monday afternoon in Lincoln County District Court in relation to the Feb. 16 incident where Tpr. Lewis Johnson suffered life-threatening injuries. The charges include attempted deliberate homicide, criminal endangerment, aggravated kidnapping, possession of dangerous drugs and criminal mischief.

Miller, a three-time convicted felon with offenses dating back more than 20 years, is locked up in the county Detention Center with his bail set at $1.5 million.

Miller appeared on video from the detention center and flatly said he understood the charges against him when questioned by District Judge Matt Cuffe.

More details on the incident were revealed in court documents that supported the charges, including additional filings for aggravated kidnapping and possession of dangerous drugs.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed by Lincoln County Deputy Attorney Jeffrey Zwang, county deputies learned that Miller was not reporting to adult probation and parole as required. They also learned Miller was staying in neighboring Flathead County and was allegedly using and selling fentanyl. In early February, Lincoln County deputies were told an arrest warrant was issued for Miller for violating his parole.

On Feb. 16, several officers, including Johnson and county officers Clint Heintz, Bo Pitman and Scott Welchons, were on duty in the Eureka area. At about 2:30 p.m., Heintz told the other officers he had located Miller near his father’s shop in the Eureka area. Heintz said Miller refused to stop and took off in his pickup truck, driving south on Highway 37.

Johnson followed Heintz in the chase with Pitman and Welchons joining in as Miller reached speeds of between 65 and 100 miles per hour while passing vehicles he encountered. According to the charging document, Miller then turned on to Camp 32 Road, lost control of the vehicle and got stuck in a snow-covered area next to the road.

Heintz followed Miller’s truck off Highway 37 and stopped on the highway side of the truck. Johnson drove on to Camp 32 Road past Miller’s vehicle and stopped 30 to 40 yards away. Officers Pitman and Welchons waited at the intersection of Highway 37 and Camp 32 Road.

Heintz and Johnson got out of their respective vehicles with their weapons drawn and approached Miller’s truck, which appeared to be stuck. They began giving verbal commands. After several seconds of not moving, Miller’s truck began spinning out in the snow before gaining traction and drove on to Camp 32 Road. Court documents indicate Miller accelerated toward Johnson, who was standing near the rear of his patrol vehicle, struck the officer and then ran him over before fleeing up Camp 32 Road.

Deputy Heintz remained at the scene to provide first aid to Johnson and called for emergency medical services and an ALERT helicopter. Sgt. Pitman and Deputy Welchons followed Miller up Camp 32 Road. Pitman saw a woman jump out of the moving truck. She was later picked up other law officers. She said she asked Miller to slow down and let her out of the truck, but he refused, according to the charging document. She also said Miller made a statement to the effect he wouldn’t go back to prison.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Ben Chappelow called Pitman on the radio to offer help before positioning his patrol truck at a choke point near the end of Camp 32 Road where it intersected with another road.

Sgt. Pitman, who was training with Deputy Welchons, ordered him to ram the rear of Miller’s vehicle to stop him from turning around and fleeing back down Camp 32 Road. Miller then allegedly accelerated and rammed Chappelow’s truck which disabled the defendant’s truck and caused significant damage to the warden’s vehicle. Miller was ordered out of the truck and arrested.

After obtaining search warrants for Miller’s truck, officers found a crystal substance that field tested positive for methamphetamine as well as various drug paraphernalia. They also recovered the crash data recorder module from his truck. Their investigation determined the truck’s throttle was 100% engaged and traveling 40 mph when it allegedly struck the game warden’s vehicle.

Miller’s next court hearing is scheduled for June 19. He faces up to life in the Montana State Prison if convicted of the attempted deliberate homicide charge.