Gray man to plead guilty to federal weapons charges

Becky Campbell • Feb 12, 2014 at 8:36 AM

A Washington County man charged with leading a state trooper on a high-speed chase before crashing and firing a gun at the officer will plead guilty to weapons charges in federal court this week, according to court documents.

Derrick Dakota Kitzmiller, 21, Gray, has signed an agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty Friday to two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Jennifer Russell, the woman with Kitzmiller on the day of the chase and his girlfriend at the time, has already pleaded guilty to making a false statement to purchase a weapon and to giving that weapon to Kitzmiller, who she knew to be a convicted felon.

She will be sentenced in May and faces up to 10 years in federal prison. Kitzmiller also faces up to 10 years in prison after his plea.

The incident happened Jan. 3, 2013, around 2:15 a.m. when a driver on Interstate 81 in Greene County called 911 to report another vehicle — which police said turned out to be Kitzmiller — tailgating him with its headlights on high and flashing a blue light.

Trooper Jeff Appleba was at the THP office in Fall Branch when the call came in and left to find the vehicle, according to court records.

The trooper got behind the vehicle and tried to stop the driver for speeding. But instead of pulling over, the driver sped up to 110 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 Appleba. He testified at a preliminary hearing in the case in state court where the couple also faces charges.

The car spun around and stopped, facing the trooper.

When Appleba got out of his cruiser, he said heard a popping sound. He said he thought it was coming from the wrecked car, but heard it again and realized it was gunfire.

“I didn’t see gunfire or hear a gunshot,” just the popping noise, Appleba said.

He took cover and returned fire. Appleba held Kitzmiller at bay until backup arrived.

A THP investigator, Sgt. Robert Johnson, testified that he recovered five spent .40-caliber shell casings from inside the vehicle, but Kitzmiller told him he blacked out right after the wreck.

“He remembers everything up to the point the shots may have happened,” Johnson said.

He said Kitzmiller told him “if he had fired, he would have fired five shots toward a tree out the passenger’s window.”

Of those five possible shots, three rounds struck Appleba’s cruiser, he said.

Another investigator, Sgt. Joe Walker, interviewed Russell. He testified that she said she tried to get Kitzmiller to stop the car, but he wouldn’t and said, “I’m not going back to jail.”

After the wreck, Russell apparently saw Kitzmiller put one of three handguns in the car into her purse.

“She heard gunfire and felt shell casings hitting her. She said she looked up and saw Kitzmiller pointing a gun,” toward the windshield, Walker testified.

During the investigation, officers found three weapons — a Smith and Wesson .40-caliber pistol, a Bersa .380-caliber pistol and a Sig Sauer .22-claiber pistol — in Russell’s vehicle.

Russell purchased the three guns at Mahoney’s Sportsman’s Paradise in December 2012. During the application process, Russell allegedly provided a false address and indicated she was purchasing the guns for herself.

State charges against the two are still pending. Kitzmiller is charged with attempted second-degree murder while Russell is charged with aiding and abetting a suspended driver and altering a license plate.

Recommended for You

    Johnson City Press Videos