A Unicoi County man accused of robbing a Johnson City restaurant led law enforcement on a lengthy vehicle pursuit and foot chase that injured an officer, but was finally found naked in a wooded area near Rock Creek Road in Erwin Tuesday.
Ariel F. Muller, 27, was taken into custody in Unicoi County around 3 p.m. on charges of carjacking, theft over $10,000, felony evading, assault on an officer, two counts of child endangerment and criminal impersonation.
He’ll face robbery charges in Johnson City, but no warrant had been filed late Tuesday.
Two children who were in the car during the pursuit were placed with the Department of Children’s Services and a woman in the car was also arrested, according to an Erwin Police Department press release.
Abigal Scott, 24, of Hampton, Va., had warrants from another state, and she faces charges in Erwin for child endangerment and criminal impersonation.
The vehicle pursuit began shortly before 1 p.m. after a man entered the La Perla III restaurant on South Roan Street and demanded a clerk hand over money.
The man — who police said was Muller — fled and got into a silver Chevrolet Sonic. It turned out to be stolen from Unicoi County, authorities said.
A witness gave an emergency dispatcher the vehicle description and law enforcement in the surrounding area began looking for it. Unicoi County and Erwin authorities were already familiar with the vehicle because it had been reported stolen March 8. Police said the victim of the carjacking knows Muller and there was already a warrant for his arrest for carjacking and theft over $10,000.
After the robbery Tuesday, a Unicoi County sheriff’s deputy spotted the car and began a pursuit that ended up near Rock Creek Road. Officers got the vehicle stopped at one point, but Muller sped off as they approached the car.
Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the force of Muller speeding away knocked Erwin Police Maj. Bill Rogers to the ground.
Hensley said officers continued the pursuit, which took them up Norton Hollow Road off Rock Creek Road. Muller bailed out of the vehicle, left Scott and the children behind and ran into the woods on foot.
Extra officers, including the UCSD SWAT team and Tennessee Highway Patrol, were called in, Hensley said. A sheriff’s office K-9 unit and THP helicopters were utilized in the pursuit of Muller.
Authorities also said nearby Rock Creek Elementary School was locked down as a precaution during the search.
Hensley said authorities searched the wooded area for approximately 90 minutes before UCSD Deputy Josh Randolph spotted an unclothed Muller attempting to camouflage himself under a pile of leaves.
“He was quite a distance up in the woods,” Hensley said.
At the scene of the search, Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said his injured officer had a “possible concussion, but he has been checked by EMS and everything is OK with him a this time. Once we clear the scene here, we’re going to have him checked at the ER just to be safe.”
Tilson said late Tuesday afternoon that Rogers was checked out at the emergency room and, aside from a bump and laceration to his head, was found to be in good condition.
When Muller was arrested, he told officers his name was Brandon Michael Alves at the scene, but then gave a different name at the jail, but was eventually positively identified.
Hensley commended the efforts of multiple agencies in Muller’s capture.
“The officers did an outstanding job,” Hensley said. “We all worked together. The Johnson City police came over and helped us. We did, like I said, have the Highway Patrol and their helicopter, the sheriff’s department and Erwin police.”
Muller is scheduled to appear in Unicoi County Sessions Court today.