A Vermont driver pled not guilty to five serious charges stemming from a pursuit investigators said snaked through three of Chittenden County's busiest cities Monday evening. Tabitha Hines, 32, of Colchester, declined comment after Tuesday morning's arraignment.
Burlington police said Hines had been drinking before getting behind the wheel of a car, and had open containers of Mike's Hard Lemonade in the vehicle. She allegedly sped away from a traffic stop for erratic operation. In the process, Hines clipped a police cruiser, according to court documents. Later, she lost a tire after it popped rumbling over a curb, police said.
After the police pursuit entered South Burlington, Hines drove onto Interstate 89 North, police said, with only three tires on her car. There, Hines allegedly rammed another police vehicle at highway speeds, causing the officer to spin out on the highway.
Hines then exited the highway and headed into downtown Winooski, where police said she crashed into a tree after failing to make a left-hand turn. At that time, police wrote in court documents that Hines told them, "I didn't mean to hurt anyone."
Leroy Yoder, the defense attorney for Tabitha Hines, entered not guilty pleas for his client on five counts. The accusations included two felony charges of aggravated assault with a weapon—the car in this case—and eluding a law enforcement officer. The three misdemeanor charges were reckless operation of a motor vehicle, leaving the scene of a crash, and driving under the influence.
Judge Samuel Hoar approved Hines for release on bond, with several conditions including orders that she not drive, not drink, and that she undergo a substance abuse screening.
"Whatever demons may be bedeviling you, I hope you confront them and do what you need to do to put them to rest," Judge Hoar told Hines at the conclusion of the court hearing. Hines responded, "Thank you."
Nancy Laing of Winooski told New England Cable News she heard the sirens and saw the aftermath of the crash into the tree. Laing said she was very glad no one was seriously hurt. The officer struck driving was checked out at the hospital for injuries, according to court documents.
"It was very scary," Laing told NECN. "That could've ended up a lot worse than what it was. A lot worse."
Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, told reporters Tuesday that he is well aware of the risks on all sides of a police chase: to the public, to suspects, and to officers. But Weinberger said he has no reason to question the decision of Burlington police officers to pursue the driver in this case.
"What goes through my mind is certainly concern for the people of Burlington and for police officers," Weinberger said. "I have no reason to second-guess decisions made by Burlington police here; certainly our officers have been trained in these issues."
The most serious charge against Tabitha Hines is aggravated assault with a weapon. It could bring as many as 15 years in prison if she is convicted.
According to court documents, Hines had a passenger in the vehicle with her. After the crash, police said Hines expressed concern for him, fearing he might have been experiencing an overdose. The passenger did not face criminal charges.