BY KEN LITTLE
A Washington County man and a Bristol woman had their first court appearance Friday following an exchange of gunfire early Thursday with a state trooper after a series of events that began on Interstate 81 in Greene County.
Derrick Dakota Kitzmiller, 20, of Gray, was charged with attempted second-degree murder, felony reckless endangerment, felony evading arrest and driving on a suspended license.
Trooper Noah Click, of the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), said Friday that Kitzmiller and a passenger, 35-year-old Jennifer Russell of Bristol, were northbound about 2:15 a.m. Thursday on I-81 near Fall Branch at Exit 50.
THP dispatch received a call from a driver who said a car was tailgating and had its bright headlights on. The driver was advised to get off I-81 at the Fall Branch exit, Click said.
The driver followed instructions, and Kitzmiller continued northbound.
At the same time, Trooper Jeff Appleba got onto northbound I-81, followed the car driven by Kitzmiller for about three miles, and attempted to make a traffic stop, Click said.
The car accelerated, and a pursuit reaching 75 to 80 mph ensued, Click said.
TROOPER FIRED ON
The 2005 Ford Fusion driven by Kitzmiller got off I-81 onto Interstate 26 and continued eastbound before exiting on Eastern Star Road.
The car made a left-hand turn onto Hog Hollow Road near Gray, where Kitzmiller lost control of the car rounding a curve, and it went off the road, crashing into two pear trees, Trooper Click said.
The chase took a potentially deadly turn at that point when the occupants of the car began shooting at Trooper Appleba.
"Once the crash occurred, the suspects in the Ford Fusion began to fire. Of course, the trooper returned fire. There was a short shootout," Click said.
Between 15 and 17 shell casings fired by the occupants of the car and Appleba were collected at the scene, Click said.
The gunshots were at close range, about 25 feet, Click said. No one was injured.
"They were fortunate -- that many rounds fired at that close a range," Click said.
"Where the crash occurred was in a residential area, and there were several homes close by."
BOTH VEHICLES STRUCK
Click said a preliminary investigation shows that no homes were struck by errant rounds.
The front and rear passenger-side windows of the patrol car were shattered by gunfire, Click said, and there were bullet holes in the windshield of the car occupied by Kitzmiller and Russell.
"Both vehicles had evidence of penetrating rounds," Click said.
Three handguns were recovered in the car. It is unknown at this time whether Kitzmiller and Russell were firing from inside or outside the car, Click said.
"It's unclear who had what until the investigation is complete," Click said.
Kitzmiller and Russell stopped firing and were taken into custody when Kingsport police arrived on the scene, Click said.
Russell is charged with felony evading arrest, aiding and abetting a suspended driver, and alteration of a title or registration falsifying tags on a vehicle. The tag letters on the car had been altered, Click said.
She also appeared Friday in Washington County General Sessions Court.
In addition to the other charges, Kitzmiller is charged with speeding, with an open container violation, with failure to maintain lane, with having no proof of insurance, with failure to exercise due care, and with a seat belt violation.
Exactly why Kitzmiller and Russell fired on the trooper remains under investigation, Click said.
Kitzmiller was also wanted for violation of probation in connection with a conviction in Washington County for fraudulent use of a credit card. He failed a drug test on Dec. 5, Click said.
Click said Kitzmiller also has convictions on his record for misdemeanor assault, trying to obtain narcotics by fraud, theft, and identification theft.
Kitzmiller was assigned a public defender on Friday. Russell was assigned Johnson City lawyer Patrick Denton, a court official said.
Both Kitzmiller and Russell have second appearances scheduled for Tuesday, the court official said.
Kitzmiller is being held in the Washington County Detention Center on $121,000 bond. Russell, who is in the same facility, is held on $16,000 bond.
Trooper Appleba is on paid administrative leave for the present, as is standard THP procedure in instances where deadly force is used, Click said.
"The trooper will be placed on administrative leave with pay, and kind of go through a debriefing period before returning to work," he said.