SKOWHEGAN — A man who led police on a high-speed chase in 2008 was being sought by police Wednesday after another chase, this one reaching speeds of 90 mph before officers backed off for reasons of public safety.

Ernest Almeida, 31, of Fairfield, abandoned his vehicle following the chase and fled into the woods near the Somerset County animal shelter on Middle Road.

State police with a tracking dog, Somerset County sheriff’s deputies and Skowhegan police fanned out in a wooded area between Middle Road and Back Road, but could not find Almeida, and the search was suspended about 1:30 p.m.

Waterville police Officer Timothy Hinton initially tried to stop Almeida near MaineGeneral Medical Center on North Street in Waterville just before noon Wednesday, according to Skowhegan Deputy Police Chief Dan Summers. Almeida was recognized by Hinton and was suspected of driving after his license had been revoked as a habitual offender.

When Almeida refused to stop, Hinton gave chase, but quickly stopped his pursuit for reasons of public safety.

Almeida was also spotted in his Silver 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee by Cpl. Eugene Cole of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department on Mechanic Street in Norridgewock, and Cole also gave chase, Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster said.

Speeds reached 90 mph before Cole backed off for safety reasons, Lancaster said. He said Cole managed to keep Almeida within sight and followed from a distance without resuming high speeds.

Summers said police officers will suspend a chase on a traffic infraction, such as Almeida’s, if the officer has been able to identify the driver and license plate number.

“It depends on the circumstances, weather conditions, populated areas and the importance of the charge against the suspect,” Summers said.

With police still following, Almeida turned onto Burrill Hill Road and Bigelow Hill Road, which lead to Middle Road in Skowhegan. A roadblock and motor vehicle spike mat were set up, but Almeida drove onto a sidewalk and around the obstacles before stopping and escaping into the woods.

Police concentrated their search in an area that included parts of Porter, Palmer and Stevens roads, all in Skowhegan, but did not find Almeida.

The previous chase involving Almeida, who has an extensive police record for arrests and convictions, was in May 2008. In that incident, Almeida allegedly squealed his tires in front of State Police Trooper Rick Moody on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield. Moody turned on his blue lights and gave chase, but Almeida sped up and drove onto Interstate 95, according to newspaper reports.

Almeida was taken into custody by Somerset County deputies after a 20-minute chase that reached 110 mph. He was charged with eluding an officer, unlawful possession of scheduled drugs, reckless conduct, violation of conditions of release, illegal attachment of plates and passing a roadblock.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said on Wednesday that Almeida pleaded guilty to passing a roadblock, a Class C felony, for which he was sentenced to serve 120 days in jail. He also pleaded guilty to eluding a police officer, a felony, and sentenced to three years in state prison, with all but 120 days to be served concurrently with the first charge. The reckless conduct charge was dismissed.

Almeida also pleaded guilty to possession of the drug hydrocodone and to violating conditions of release, for which he was given 10-day sentences, also to be served concurrently, and a $400 fine. He served two years of probation.

Lancaster said police would seek an arrest warrant in connection with Wednesday’s chase.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@centralmaine.com