CHRISTIANSBURG — A Montgomery County man’s determined, drunken escape from police on Christmas Eve 2019 will cost him more than three years behind bars, a judge has ruled.
Mitchell Conrad Linkous, 47, at one point faced the possibility of six life sentences for an encounter with law enforcement that began with him walking away from a Blacksburg police officer – as the officer clung to the door of Linkous’ van – and chased through crashes, pepper spray and the slow-motion ramming of three police vehicles. But a plea deal in December dropped or amended many charges against him, including the six counts of attempted capital murder of an officer.
At Monday’s sentencing hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Linkous faced a maximum sentence of 23 years in prison and fines of $17,500. But sentencing guidelines, which took into account Linkous’ lack of criminal history, suggested he be locked up for between one and three years.
Judge Robert Turk said he would impose a higher sentence than the guidelines provided because of the seriousness of Linkous’ actions. Additionally, the judge said he didn’t believe all of Linkous’ behavior stemmed from intoxication.
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“I think you knew what was going on,” Turk said.
Linkous had pleaded guilty in December to two counts of assaulting an officer; one count of destruction of property for hitting a Virginia State Police cruiser; two counts of destruction of property for damaging Blacksburg police cars; elude; and drunk driving, second or subsequent offence.
Turk sentenced Linkous to a total of 15 years, suspended after serving three years and six months.
The judge also ordered a $1,500 fine, revoked Linkous’ driver’s license for three years, and said Linkous will have five years of supervised probation upon his release, followed by five years of unsupervised probation. Linkous must also pay another $1,598 restitution, the judge said, in addition to the nearly $5,000 Linkous’ lawyers said they have paid so far.
Before Turk handed down his sentence, Linkous apologized to the law enforcement authorities who prosecuted him, to the court and to his family.
Monday’s hearing included testimony from Linkous’ sister and employer that the episode with the police was unusual, as well as a series of officers who gave video testimony of their bodies and car cameras showed the chase.
It all started when a Blacksburg officer spotted a pickup truck with a broken rear window and taillight stopped at the intersection of North Main Street and Price Fork Road. Linkous was the driver. His eyes were red, his speech slurred and he told the officer he had had three beers several hours earlier, Assistant Commonwealth Solicitor Erin Little said at Linkous’ hearing in December.
But when the officer told Linkous to get out of the vehicle, Linkous refused. After the driver’s door was opened and closed several times, Linkous retreated to the road, with the officer still hanging on first.
The hunt that followed reached Christiansburg and then the community of Merrimac where Linkous lived. With a growing line of law enforcement vehicles behind him, Linkous destroyed his truck twice on the US 460 Bypass, but was able to resume flying. In Merrimac, he pulled over in the driveway he shared with his sister and rammed the vehicle into a tree.
The pursuit officers, who filled the driveway behind him, thought Linkous would leave the truck and head for his sister’s house. They started getting out of their cars.
But Linkous restarted his truck and drove past the house and into a field and woods. As officers raced after him, yelling at him to stop, Linkous made a multi-point turn and headed for the driveway.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Josh Oakley testified that Linkous’ driver and passenger side windows were rolled down and that he gave Linkous a face full of pepper spray as he passed.
Linkous “kept his eyes open like I never pepper sprayed him,” Oakley said.
State Police Private J. Hale testified that he was with other officers in the driveway when Linkous returned and also noticed Linkous’ wide eyes. Linkous didn’t swerve as his pickup truck pushed three police vehicles out of the way and he drove off, Hale said.
The soldier said he had to move out of the way to avoid being crushed. Asked by Little what he was thinking at the time, the soldier replied “he would kill us”.
Linkous’ sister Kimberly Woolwine testified that she ran out of her house, yelled at her brother to stop, then stood in front of his truck and put her hands on the hood as it drove away in the driveway. Woolwine said Linkous was moving so slowly at the time that she didn’t feel unsafe and could easily steer clear when he didn’t stop.
Linkous drove a short distance further and abandoned his truck in a driveway near Oilwell Road. A search drone detected his body heat and officers found him hiding under a tarp that covered a pile of firewood.
Little released a final video of Linkous in police custody. On several occasions, he asked the policemen why they were arresting him, called them liars and shouted curses.
Linkous’ attorneys, Bev Davis of Radford and Tony Anderson of Roanoke, said Monday their client was a trusted worker at a concrete company whose employer said his job would be waiting for him after his release. The lawyers described Linkous as a devoted father caring for a young son who in recent years needed operations for an eye condition – a situation which had previously led the court to put Linkous’ case on hold for a while. that her son was recovering, the lawyers noted.
Anderson and Davis said Linkous knew he would be imprisoned. But a year might be enough to serve, they said.
Little disagreed, saying Linkous’ theft threatened not only the officers, but also his own loved ones and everyone on the road that Christmas night.
“He had so many chances to stop. … There has to be a consequence for what he did,” Little said.