Charges Filed Following 4-Way Crash
Tue, 07/20/2021 - 2:37pm admin
Amanda Mendez, Publisher
Luke T. Riley, 33, of Willow Springs has been charged with seven felonies in connection with the crash at the intersection of Main and Harris in Willow Springs last Sunday. As he fled from Sheriff’s deputies, Riley crashed into a vehicle driven by Tracy Trude, totalling the truck he was driving, causing significant damage to Trude’s vehicle, a van parked on the street, a historic building at the 4-way, and a bank of commercial mailboxes.
Riley has been charged with one count of second degree assault, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, resisting arrest creating a substantial risk of injury, leaving the scene of an accident involving physical injury, and driving while revoked and suspended.
Riley’s initial appearance took place on July 15 before the Honorable R. David Ray, and the accused remains jailed on a $50,000 bond.
What Happened Before the Crash?
The seventh felony charge is first degree assault of a special victim. The special victim in this case refers to Deputy Travis Weaver. According to the probable cause statement filed by the officer who initiated the traffic-stop-turned-pursuit, Deputy Logan Wake, in the course of the pursuit, “Riley swerved into an oncoming lane towards another responding deputy...causing [Deputy Weaver] to maneuver his patrol car into the ditch to avoid being struck."
On July 15, Howell County Sheriff Brent Campbell released a public information statement that read in part, “When contact was attempted, the suspect fled from the officer. Howell County initiated a pursuit and during that pursuit, the suspect drove into oncoming traffic and forced a Deputy off the roadway and also drove around spike strips at a high rate of speed. Based on numerous factors, including the obvious danger posed by the suspect, Deputies continued to attempt to stop the vehicle. The pursuit continued into the City of Willow Springs where there were minor incidents with bystanders.”
“Minor incidents” refers mainly to a motor vehicle accident between Deputy Wake and a civilian, Rajwinder (Rajie) Dhillon. According to the statement from Sheriff Campbell, the accident report taken by Willow Springs Police Department, and messages exchanged between Dhillon and this reporter, after the crash Deputy Wake continued the pursuit, but Deputy Weaver stopped to check on the driver.
Dhillon told Howell County News he was traveling with his baby daughter. When he saw the deputy coming he tried to get out of the way, but Deputy Wake’s vehicle made contact with his rear fender. Dhillon said he was directed to contact Willow Springs Police Department to make a report of the accident, but that, “they shouldn't have left the seen and at the very least had my daughter checked out [sic].”
According to the accident report filed by Officer David Hocking of WSPD, however, Deputy Weaver told Officer Hocking that “the male driver stated that he was fine and did not need any medical attention.” Dhillon told Officer Hocking he and his daughter “were fine.”
Dhillon did not proceed to the police department, but according to the report, Officer Hocking contacted him at home to make the report. Damage to Dhillon’s vehicle is described as “white paint and scuffs down the passenger’s side, starting from the passenger rear fender extending to midways on the passenger side door.”
The WSPD report also mentions wet road conditions as a contributing factor to the collision.
This interaction occurred at Highway 137 and North Center St. inside Willow Springs city limits. Less than 4,000 feet away, Riley barrelled through the 4-way stop and caused the crash that injured the woman and her two daughters. Last week’s story incorrectly reported that he crashed into her driver’s side door. Evidence photos from Howell County Sheriff’s Office, however, show the impact to have occurred at the driver’s side front fender.
Nearby surveillance footage revealed Riley crashed into Trude’s vehicle, ricocheted into the building on the corner, and sprang immediately from the truck to flee on foot. The deputies’ vehicles crossed the intersection nine seconds after the impact.
The original press release from Howell County Sheriff’s Office on Monday morning stated that Deputy Wake recognized the truck to match the description of a vehicle that had fled from WSPD on July 7. However, the date of the prior pursuit was later revealed to be July 4. Police Chief Bryan Hogan told Howell County News in an interview that Officer Corey Clark initiated a stop for an equipment violation. The driver fled and Officer Clark gave chase, but never made a positive identification of the driver.
Chief Hogan agreed, “In all likelihood, it was Luke [Riley].”
Both Sheriff Campbell and Chief Hogan agree that neither agency was specifically targeting Riley at any time; both pursuits were prompted by equipment failures.
“Prior to [the final] crash, Mr. Riley actively attempted to conceal his identity by lowering his head with only his hand visible on the steering wheel,” said Sheriff Campbell’s statement.
The Sheriff’s Deputies’ decision to continue their pursuit of their subject into the heart of Willow Springs has proved controversial. More than one citizen has suggested it was a reckless action by law enforcement.
However, Sheriff Campbell has spoken out in strong support of the work his men did that night.
According to his statement on July 15, “After Riley’s arrest, further investigation determined Riley was intoxicated, had three outstanding felony warrants, and has been arrested over 26 times. Howell County has an involvement history of at least 32 incidents. Including the surrounding area, I’ve counted 45 involvements to include burglary, felony and misdemeanor stealing, resisting arrest/interfering, drug related crimes, and numerous driving offenses. It’s also been found that when Riley was placed on probation in 2019, he absconded and never reported to Probation and Parole.
The wreck caused by Mr. Riley is an unfortunate event. However, fortunately, we were able to get Mr. Riley off the road and prevent an even worse outcome. Based on Mr. Riley’s history and actions in the pursuit, even if the pursuit were terminated it does not mean he would have terminated his dangerous driving and willful attempts to injure deputies and citizens.”