A Wilton man who managed to escape from a Franklin County Sheriff’s Office transport van despite being in handcuffs and leg irons is facing a raft of charges for assaulting a deputy, breaking into a home, assaulting the homeowner, stealing an SUV and leading police on a high-speed chase, authorities say.

Derek Cook, 31, of Wilton, was being held Tuesday at the Franklin County Jail on charges from the sheriff’s office, Wilton police and Maine State Police for a 30-minute flight that began shortly before 10 a.m. in Wilton and ended when he crashed the SUV in Chesterville.

Sheriff Scott Nichols said it is the first such escape from one of the county’s transport vans that he knew of and that all the prisoner transfer protocols were followed.

“I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.

Cook was being taken from the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn, where he was jailed on a probation hold, to the Franklin County Jail in Farmington — a trip of about 40 miles — when he escaped from custody on Route 133 in Wilton.

Deputy Phil Richards, the driver, was the only officer in the van that was transporting Cook and two other prisoners.

Nichols said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that the number of officers transporting inmates depends on the inmates. Tuesday’s prisoners were not considered “any high-risk people,” so one officer typically would have sufficed, he said.

Cook slipped off one of his handcuffs and opened the side door of the van with the open cuff, according to a news release. He still wore ankle shackles and a stomach band, which he had on throughout his 30-minute flight.

When Richards saw what was happening, he stopped the van to confront Cook, who jumped out.

Cook fled and Richards followed, catching him at a tree line a short distance away. The two struggled, but Richards was able to get Cook back in the van, Nichols said in the release. Once back at the van, another fight ensued and Cook “kicked Richards to the ground.”

Richards pepper-sprayed Cook, the release said, but Cook was able to escape and ran down the road.

Since Richards was the only officer in the van, he called for assistance rather than following, Nichols said. The call came in at 9:57 a.m.

Cook, in leg shackles, ran about a quarter mile down Route 133, where police say he knocked down the door of a residence. Once inside, he assaulted a woman when she tried to call police, then forced her to give him the keys to her 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nichols said.

He was spotted by Wilton police leaving the woman’s driveway in the Jeep and speeding toward U.S. Route 2 in Farmington, the sheriff said.

Wilton Officer Gary Allen, who had just arrived on Route 133 with off-duty Farmington Sgt. Edward Hastings, gave chase.

Once Cook arrived at the intersection of Route 133 and U.S. Route 2, near Franklin Memorial Hospital, state police joined the chase, followed by Farmington Officer Bill Tanner.

Both agencies pursued Cook onto Knowles Corner Road, Webster Road and east on Route 156. When the chase continued into Chesterville, Cook turned onto Valley Road, the release said.

When Cook tried to turn onto Zions Hill Road, he lost control of the Jeep and struck a tree. He was taken into custody by Trooper Bernard Campbell.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office still was wrapping up the investigation Tuesday afternoon, Nichols said in an interview.

Richards and Cook both were taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital for evaluation of minor injuries. Nichols said that the homeowner was not seriously injured and was not taken to the hospital.

Wilton police have charged Cook with robbery, burglary, assault, obstructing the report of a crime, theft and eluding arrest. State police have charged him with criminal speeding, eluding arrest, reckless conduct, driving to endanger and operating after suspension with an extensive history of driving offenses.

Over the last four years, court and police logs show, Cook has faced numerous charges of violating conditions of release, once in April 2012, once in July 2013, and once in March 2014. In January 2012, Cook also was charged with criminal mischief.

Franklin County Jail officials did not know late Tuesday afternoon why Cook was on probation.

Lauren Abbate can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

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