NEWPORT, Vt. – A 34-year-old Vermont man who authorities said used a large farm tractor like a monster truck and drove over seven police vehicles -- then tried to run over two officers who pursued him -- was ordered held on $50,000 bail Friday.
Orleans County sheriffs said Roger Pion of Newport was angry over a recent arrest for resisting arrest and marijuana possession when he drove the tractor into the parking lot of the sheriff's department and rolled it multiple times across cruisers and a transport van parked in the lot. No one was injured in Thursday's incident.
Sworn police statements filed at the court said Pion would face 14 charges. The most serious one, felony aggravated assault on a police officer, carries a penalty of up to 16 years in prison.
Sheriffs said that after Pion left their lot, they were unable to pursue him because they had no intact vehicles. When two Newport City officers chased him, he suddenly started backing the tractor toward them.
"I backed up in fear of our safety about ten to fifteen feet before bumping into another vehicle," wrote Newport Officer Tanner Jacobs, adding that "at this point the tractor was still backing up." He said he and his partner then left their vehicle to avoid getting run over.
Converging city and state police and county sheriffs then surrounded Pion and ordered him from the tractor at gunpoint. He was found to be carrying a loaded pistol, authorities said. Sheriff's deputies got there in a borrowed civilian vehicle.
Defense attorney David Sleigh said he would seek to have the aggravated assault charge dismissed.
"There was no actual contact. He never came into threatening proximity of anyone," Sleigh said. "I understand if these deputies were annoyed, and there may be a personal measure of retribution" reflected in the aggravated assault charge. "But that does not equate to proof."
After Pion's court appearance Friday, sheriff's deputies and fire and rescue crews in neighboring Derby, where the sheriff's department is located, were trying to salvage what they could from the crushed cruisers. They were using tools usually used to extract crash victims from crushed vehicles to pry open the cruisers' trunks.
Chief Deputy Philip Brooks marveled that the rifle, shotgun and other items stored in his cruiser's trunk were unharmed. "Even my hat held its shape," he said.
Brooks said the department moved into the former bank building in December. There was no video surveillance of the ungated parking lot. "I'm certain the security issues will be revisited," he said.
Several other sheriffs' departments around Vermont offered to lend cruisers to Orleans County. State police offered cars they were preparing for auction.
Sheriff Kirk Martin said in an interview at the county courthouse that he was in Boston, preparing to attend a Red Sox game on Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at Fenway Park, when he got word of the vehicular carnage back home. He hurried back north, with New Hampshire and Vermont State Police escorting him.
Martin missed the game, in which Boston lost to the Minnesota Twins, 5-0. "Even watching them lose yesterday would have been better" than what he came home to, he said.