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By Renee Sloan and Laura Lewis
Two suspects were shot last Friday night by law enforcement officers as the two men tried to flee from a multi-agency Governors Highway Safety Booze It and Lose It checkpoint in Leland.
Suspect Jerry Onasis Melvin, shot Friday night, has been arrested and is being held at the Brunswick County Detention Facility under $250,000 bond.
Melvin, 42, of Isabelle Trail in Leland, has been charged with eight counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, eight counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a government official and one count of felony conspiracy (for a speeding to elude charge).
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office has also filed charges against Antoine Levar Graham, 34, of Mimosa Trail in Leland for 10 counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, 10 counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a government official, one count of fleeing/eluding arrest with a motor vehicle, one count of felony conspiracy, one count of possession of marijuana up to one-half ounce, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
At press time Tuesday, Graham was still a patient at New Hanover Regional Medical Center and a spokesperson at the hospital said he was in fair condition. He will be taken in to custody once he is released from the hospital.
The incident occurred at the checkpoint on U.S. 17 near Olde Regent Way, just off the on ramp from U.S. 74/76.
Four Brunswick County sheriff's deputies and three New Hanover County sheriff’s deputies were involved in the incident.
The BCSO officers include Cpl. Brian Medlin and deputies John Rogers, Joe Cherry and Larry Branch.
Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said they have all been assigned to administrative duties until they have been evaluated to make sure they can return to duty.
Ingram addressed the incident at a press conference in Bolivia on Monday afternoon.
According to Ingram, the incident started around 11:36 p.m. Friday night when Rogers observed a Lincoln Navigator approaching the checkpoint in the southbound lanes of U.S. 17. He also observed numerous items being thrown from the vehicle.
Ingram said once Rogers approached the vehicle, he saw two occupants, later identified as Graham and Melvin.
As Rogers approached, the driver of the vehicle attempted to flee, exiting that lane and moving into the other lane where it proceeded toward other officers at a high rate of speed.
Ingram said the suspects attempted to run down the other officers to avoid being detained.
“Deputies with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, as well as New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, realizing that their lives were in danger of being run over by this vehicle, proceeded to shoot at the vehicle in attempts to stop the vehicle from traveling any further,” Ingram said.
At this point, Ingram said the vehicle proceeded through the median and into the northbound lane of U.S. 17, at which time one of the suspects jumped from the vehicle and landed in the roadway.
Ingram said the suspect who jumped from the vehicle had multiple gunshot wounds.
He said Brunswick County Sheriff’s deputies and officers from other agencies pursued the vehicle as it traveled onto U.S. 74/76 and headed toward Wilmington.
Just before the Leland exit, he said Brunswick County sheriff’s deputies spun the vehicle out into the median using a PIT maneuver, a technique that uses a law enforcement vehicle to stop a fleeing vehicle. Rogers drove the vehicle that immobilized the Navigator.
Ingram said a Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office cruiser was positioned in front of the Navigator, and Rogers then got out of his cruiser and approached the vehicle.
“He exited the vehicle, and perceiving the threat being used against him again, as well as fellow officers, he proceeded to fire again in attempts to stop the suspects,” Ingram said.
According to Ingram, the Navigator had not stopped; it had spun out into the median and was still traveling toward the officers.
The second time they fired on the vehicle, the suspect was stopped.
Both suspects were treated for their injuries and transported to New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
According to Ingram, the checkpoint ended when the shooting began, and deputies began securing the crime scene when the incident was under control.
He said because the incident occurred in two places, there were two crime scenes. He said the officers immediately secured both scenes and shut down several lanes of travel on U.S. 74 and U.S. 17, alerted traffic and called the State Bureau of Investigation.
Ingram said at this time, it is unknown if Graham and Melvin fired on the officers or if they were armed.
He also says it is unknown exactly how many shots the officers fired or exactly how many officers were in the path of the Navigator because these matters were still being sorted out.
“We have a criminal investigation for this individual, so we have to know who was exactly where to be able to sort all that out, but at least eight (shots were fired),” Ingram said.
At this time, it is unknown whether Melvin and Graham were under the influence because toxicology reports are still pending. Ingram did say items were recovered from the roadway, but at this time he could not say if they were items thrown from the Navigator.
He said recovered items included a weapon and a bag of marijuana.
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, and the State Bureau of Investigation are currently conducting independent investigations into this matter, and Ingram said he expects this information to be determined in the ongoing investigations.
Ingram did say he believes his deputies acted “with extreme care for the public, the sake of the public and the safety and well-being of everyone involved at that checkpoint.”
“To this day, no one has said that any other vehicle, other than the vehicle in question, no civilian vehicle has been hit by gunfire, that we know of, other than this suspect vehicle,” Ingram said.
“And I think that says a lot for the care that the officers used when attempting to stop this deadly force, meaning traveling towards them at such a high rate of speed. With all the other people sitting in traffic and waiting to go through the checking station, I think it says a lot for the care used.”
Melvin made his first appearance in court Monday. According to the district attorney’s office, Ed Geddings has been assigned as his court-appointed attorney, and the case has been continued until July 8.