A Washington County man was charged with the attempted murder of a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer Thursday following an early morning police chase that ended with a single-vehicle crash and large exchange of gunfire near Tri-Cities Baptist Church in Gray.
No one was injured in the incident, which began about 2:15 a.m. when a driver traveling north on I-81 in Greene County contacted the THP and reported being tailgated by a vehicle following with its headlights on high beam.
Trooper Noah Click said a dispatcher directed the driver to exit the interstate at the THP station in Fall Branch at which point the suspect’s vehicle, a red 2005 Ford Focus, continued traveling north on the Interstate.
Trooper Jeff Appleba attempted to stop the car for speeding about 3 miles north of the Fall Branch exit but the driver, who was later identified as Derrick Dakota Kitzmiller, 21, Gray, continued at speeds up to 115 mph, turning east onto Interstate 26 then immediately exiting at Eastern Star Road. Kitzmiller continued speed west along Eastern Star and onto Hog Hollow Road at speeds up to 80 mph before he lost control of the vehicle in a curve, left the road and struck two small trees.
According to Click, Kitzmiller and Appleba exchanged at least 15 rounds of gunfire after the crash. He said the details of how the shooting occurred were still being investigated but confirmed Appleba’s front wind shield and a rear passenger window on his cruiser appeared to have been broken by gunfire. At least seven bullet holes were found in the Focus after the shoot-out but Click said it was unclear how many of those shots were fired from inside the vehicle and how many were fired from outside.
Kitzmiller and a passenger in the vehicle, Jennifer Russell, 35, Bristol, were taken into custody after the shooting and were still being questioned by investigators early Thursday afternoon. Both Kitzmiller and Russell were carrying guns at the time of their arrest. A third gun and an open bottle of candy-flavored vodka were found in the Focus.
Kitzmiller initially was charged with attempted second degree murder, driving on suspended license, felony evading arrest, reckless endangerment, violation of the open container law and speeding. Russell 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.
Click said background checks were being conducted on Kitzmiller and Russell and additional charges would be filed. The driver who initially contacted the THP was also being questioned by investigators.
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 of 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.