A damaged 2002 Ford Super Duty pickup towing a U-Haul trailer sits beside the southbound lanes of the Maine Turnpike on Tuesday after the driver, David Stoddard, 49, of Topsham, led police on a high-speed chase from Kennebunk to York, according to Maine State Police. The pursuit ended when Stoddard crashed near mile marker 4. Maine State Police photo

A 24-mile police chase on the Maine Turnpike on Tuesday was more intense and dangerous than state police have revealed, reaching speeds of 110 mph as the suspect weaved through traffic and tossed tools and equipment from the speeding truck.

David Stoddard Photo courtesy York County Jail

An audio recording of police radio traffic reveals that the driver, David Stoddard of Topsham, appeared to have blood on his hands as he drove. On the recording, police also said they recovered a handgun that was tossed from the speeding truck.

The recording archived by the online service Broadcastify also reveals that a trooper rammed the pickup truck as many as five or six times, with no success, and that the attempts to purposely spin the truck and trailer may have been carried out at high speed.

The deliberate collision is called a precision immobilization technique, or PIT maneuver, and involves a police cruiser diagonally striking the rear quarter of a suspect’s vehicle at close to the fleeing vehicle’s speed to cause it to spin out and come to a stop. At high speeds, it is typically reserved for moments when deadly force is required.

“A PIT conducted at over 45 MPH should only be used when the use of deadly force is justified, AND, barring extraordinary or life-threatening circumstances, may only be employed with the prior approval of a supervisor,” according to a model policy promulgated by the Maine Chief’s of Police Association.

It’s unclear whether the state police policy hews closely to that model. Earlier this week, state police officials refused to release the agency’s policy, citing exemptions to public records law that the police department’s attorney interprets and enforces.

When the chase ended near mile 4 of the turnpike, traffic backed up on the northbound side of the highway. The driver of a tractor-trailer did not notice the slowing traffic and slammed into an SUV, pushing it into the trailer of a truck in front of it. The driver and passenger, Geoffrey and Elizabeth Gattis of Falmouth, were killed instantly.

Every police agency must maintain a pursuit policy. It is one of a dozen essential police regulations that are required by the board of trustees at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which sets a dozen minimum training and policy standards for law enforcement statewide.

Police say Stoddard, 49, was behind the wheel of a 2002 Ford F-250 that was towing an enclosed U-Haul trailer.

Stoddard is expected to face a judge Friday afternoon in York District Court in his first appearance on charges of elevated aggravated assault, aggravated reckless conduct, aggravated driving to endanger and eluding police, state police said in a news release.

Together, the pickup and trailer likely weighed 3 ½ tons – more if fully loaded. The trailer made stopping the vehicle by normal means more difficult, troopers said on the recording. PIT maneuvers are a common tactic used by law enforcement nationwide. But when deployed in the wrong way or under less-than-ideal circumstances, the ensuing crash can cause the death or serious injury of suspects, bystanders and police.

An August 2020 review by the Washington Post found that since 2016, police PIT maneuvers have caused the death of 30 people and injured hundreds more. But the true number of injuries and deaths nationwide is unknown, the Post reported, because local police departments are not required to report police chase crashes, injuries and fatalities.

In Maine, statewide policy requires every department to document and report chase scenarios to the state police traffic division, but those reports are not released publicly. The Press Herald on Thursday requested a compilation of two years of chase records, but fulfilling that request could take weeks or months.

It’s unclear where Stoddard was going. A witness who was driving in Portland told a reporter Thursday that he saw the truck being driven erratically before drivers on Interstate 95 reported him to police. Cory Ellis, in Maine for business, said he was nearly run off the road by Stoddard’s pickup along Washington Avenue in Portland.

Ellis was headed back to his Newbury Street Airbnb shortly after 1 p.m. on Tuesday when he got off Interstate 295 south on the Washington Street off-ramp and spotted Stoddard’s white, 2002 Ford F-250 pickup truck – the same enclosed U-Haul trailer in tow – parked on the side of the highway ramp. Ellis passed the truck, but as soon as he headed into Portland, Ellis said, Stoddard’s truck and trailer passed him at high speed on the left, crossing the double-yellow line.

Ellis said Stoddard ran two red lights, turned right onto Congress Street and then left onto India Street. By chance, Stoddard parked a couple of doors down from where Ellis was staying. Ellis, still surprised and angry at the near-collision, approached Stoddard’s vehicle with his cellphone camera ready.

“He noticed I had the phone out and (he) cracked his car door open, and said, ‘I’m going to (expletive) kill you,” Ellis said.

Ellis backed off and went inside, he said. It’s unclear exactly where Stoddard re-entered the interstate, but shortly after 1 p.m., state police received six calls from motorists reporting the truck was being driven erratically along I-95 south, police said.

Trooper Lee Vanadestine positioned his cruiser at a crossover point between the northbound and southbound lanes at mile 28, and around 1:17 p.m., began to follow Stoddard south. Almost immediately, Vanadestine radioed dispatchers with a report of erratic driving.

Vanadestine watched as Stoddard nearly ran a tractor-trailer off the road, and swerved into and out of the breakdown lane while traveling upward of 70 mph.

“He’s gonna wreck, I gotta take him out,” Vanadestine said on the radio only two minutes after watching Stoddard’s driving. “He’s throwin’ stuff out the vehicle at me.”

Vanadestine called a signal 1000, the code for a serious emergency. Three tones rang out over the police airwaves, signaling for other officers not involved to remain silent or switch radio channels.

Around 1:20 p.m., Stoddard and Vandestine passed the Kennebunk Service Plaza, Vanadestine reported. “Operation is horrendous,” he said.

Around 1:21 p.m., a female officer, presumably a supervisor, radioed to Vandestine. “You can go ahead and hit him if he’s under 45,” she said.

The barrage of debris being tossed out of Stoddard’s truck continued, Vanadestine reported. He feared Stoddard would roll over and crash.

“He is throwing duffel bags out the window, trash out the window,” the trooper said. “We’re in the passing lane at 90 miles an hour.”

Only five minutes into the chase, a ladder attached to a rack on the truck came loose, and got wedged between the truck and the trailer. In a police photo released afterward, a ladder is still visible hanging from the rack at an angle.

“I think he’s going to kill somebody the way he’s operating here,” Vanadestine said. A couple of minutes later, the trooper pulled alongside Stoddard.

“He just tried to ram me,” Vanadestine said. “Can I have a supervisor or a lieutenant call me, on my cellphone, please?”

Around mile 13, the two were traveling about 60 mph when Stoddard allegedly threw a circular saw out of his truck at Vanadestine’s cruiser. Then he threw a pair of bolt cutters out the window, the trooper reported. A minute later, it was a power drill, the trooper said.

At that point, the chase was rapidly approaching the York Toll Plaza. Vanadestine worried that toll takers could be injured, and suggested they take cover. Other police radioed ahead to New Hampshire troopers, who were waiting at the border.

Under instructions from another officer, Vanadestine backed off from Stoddard as they passed through the aging, narrow toll lanes.

“We just did the EZPass lane at 110 miles an hour,” Vanadestine said. About 20 seconds later, Vanadestine radios again. “His trailer must be heavy, I’ve tried to ram him, PIT him four times, and I just cannot get him to flip.” A moment after that, Vanadestine’s tone changed.

“I’m 1050,” he said, signaling that he had crashed. Police later said he struck the median. “I tried to hit him five or six times.”

Near the mile 4 marker, a Kittery police officer had set up a spike strip on the highway, but Stoddard allegedly dodged it. A few seconds after that, Stoddard allegedly rammed the Kittery officer’s cruiser, tearing off part of the bumper and finally disabling the pickup.

Vanadestine suffered minor injuries in the crash, as did the Kittery officer and another trooper who was injured while trying to take Stoddard into custody, police said. After Stoddard was in handcuffs, police said, they found the handgun on the roadside, apparently tossed from the truck.

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