No video available in Gray shootout

Becky Campbell • Jan 4, 2013 at 9:14 PM

State prosecutors will not have video evidence in the vehicle pursuit and ensuing shootout Thursday between a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper and a man who may have attempted to pull over another vehicle.

The digital video camera usually in Trooper Jeff Appleba’s cruiser was left behind at the THP headquarters in Fall Branch when he received the dispatch of a vehicle flashing a blue light at another car.

The new information came Friday from the Tennessee Department of Safety after the Johnson City Press requested a copy of the video from Appleba’s cruiser.

“At the time of the call, he was at the THP office in Fall Branch downloading his files” from the camera, said Dalya Qualls, public information officer for the Department of Safety. “He didn’t have his equipment with him” on the pursuit, she said.

The two people arrested in the case were arraigned in Washington County Sessions Court on multiple charges Friday.

Derrick Dakota Kitzmiller, 21, 297 Kitzmiller Road, Gray, is charged with attempted second-degree murder — which stems from gunfire exchanged with the trooper — driving on suspended license, felony evading arrest, reckless endangerment, violation of the open container law and speeding.

A woman with Kitzmiller, Jennifer Russell, 35, of the same address, was charged with altering a vehicle title or registration for allegedly changing the two tag numbers on the Focus, which was registered in her name.

It all began around 2:15 a.m. Thursday when a driver on Interstate 81 in Greene County called 911 to report another vehicle tailgating him with its headlights on high.

That driver exited the interstate as the offending driver continued northbound on I-81. Appleba got behind the vehicle and tried to stop the driver for speeding.

Instead of pulling over, the driver reportedly kept going, speeding up to 115 mph, then exited onto Interstate 26 and then onto Eastern Star Road. The driver continued speeding, traveling around 80 mph, until he lost control, ran off the road and hit two trees, according to police.

According to court documents, as soon as Appleba got out of his cruiser, he heard a popping noise. At first he thought it was a noise coming from the vehicle that wrecked, but realized he was being shot at.

Appleba returned fire, shooting 14 rounds from his handgun. No one was injured in the shooting, and Kitzmiller and Russell were taken into custody at the scene.

Sullivan County and Washington County sheriff’s deputies also responded to the scene as backup for Appleba, but the trooper is the only officer who exchanged gunfire with Kitzmiller.

During the investigation, the THP found two spent shell casings inside Russell’s vehicle. Investigators also said Kitzmiller had a “police-looking badge” attached to the jacket he wore that night.

Russell’s charges stem from reportedly allowing an unlicensed driver operate her vehicle and because the license plate number on her vehicle had been altered with black electrical tape.

Kitzmiller’s criminal history includes convictions for attempt to obtain narcotics by fraud, misdemeanor assault and theft, and multiple counts of identification theft and fraudulent use of a credit card for which he was sentenced to nearly five years of probation in November 2011. He was charged with violation of probation on Dec. 5 for allegedly testing positive for drug use, failure to pay fines and court costs, and failure to maintain employment.

Kitzmiller is in jail on $121,000 bond and Russell is jailed on $16,000 bond. They have a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Sessions Court.

According to THP protocol, Appleba is on mandatory administrative leave.

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