Paul Anthony Thomas, 31, 3176 Bristol Caverns Highway, who had been arrested by the sheriff’s department in the past on burglary, drug possession and driving offenses, was shot in the head after the officer wielded his .40-caliber Glock service pistol during a 2:30 a.m. vehicle stop confrontation.
Anderson declined to identify the officer until Monday.
“He needs some quiet time with his family ... (but) there was no doubt in my mind that the officer was in fear for his life,” Anderson said during a 9 a.m. news conference at the sheriff’s department.
Anderson said authorities were “fairly confident” that Thomas’ motive for trying to run over the officer was probably drug-related.
A witness at the scene supported the officer’s account of what happened, according to Anderson.
The officer will be on temporary administrative leave and then will appear before a Critical Incident Team for a debriefing.
“If they feel he’s OK, he’ll come back to work,” Anderson said.
Both Virginia and Tennessee law enforcement officials were investigating the incident which evolved after the sheriff’s department received a call to check out a suspicious vehicle parked at the activities building across from Cold Springs Presbyterian Church on Cold Springs Road in the county’s rural northeast end.
Sheriff’s deputies in separate cruisers checked and found nothing at the church, but noticed that a small green Dodge pickup was driving “real slow” down Cold Springs Road, Anderson said.
“It slowed up right where the officers were at and just started revving the engine up in a way that almost appeared like (the driver) was enticing the officers to stop them,” Anderson explained.
Anderson said the truck went down the road moving toward Highway 44, and one of the sheriff’s cruisers got behind the truck and attempted to pull it over.
Then a separate vehicle pulled out from behind the church and got behind the cruiser. The second sheriff’s department cruiser got behind that vehicle, Anderson said.
When the vehicles got to Highway 44, the truck headed toward Virginia while the other car went toward the Highway 421 area. The two sheriff’s department cruisers pursued both vehicles to make a traffic stop. The vehicle headed toward Highway 421 was stopped and the driver was arrested for driving on a revoked license, according to Anderson.
When the other officer turned on his blue lights to stop the truck, the driver hit the gas and was traveling at around 70 mph, Anderson said.
“The truck was riding the center lane most of the way ... which is very dangerous,” Anderson noted. “He went a short distance and started to pull over or acting like he was pulling over ... then he sped up again and took off. If you know that area, you’re in Virginia and then into Tennessee and then into Virginia.”
The truck turned onto a remote road that dead-ends about 250 feet inside Virginia, and backed into a driveway. The driver’s side of the vehicle was next to a fence.
“At that point the officer got out of his patrol car ... and walked around to the front of the truck and tried to go to the driver’s window but couldn’t get through because he was so close to that fence,” Anderson described. “The motor was still running and (the officer) kept hollering at him to cut his engine off. There was a female on the passenger side and she was screaming at him to stop. He started to pull out and bumped the officer twice. After the second time, the officer pulled his weapon. (The driver) revved the engine up as if he was going to really run him over. At that point, (the officer) fired two shots, and one shot fatally wounded the suspect.”
After the shots were fired, the truck still hit the officer and dragged him for a few feet.
A video camera mounted on the dashboard of the officer’s cruiser was experiencing problems but might have captured part of the incident, Anderson said.
He added the officer was hospitalized with some abrasions but is doing fine.
Thomas’ brushes with the law started in 1999. His last arrest happened last January when the sheriff’s department booked him for reckless driving. He damaged a window in a patrol car by slamming his head against it. He had been placed in the patrol car after attempting to flee when deputies found what appeared to be a large bag of marijuana in his possession.
Deputies also located brass knuckles, pills, a syringe and a digital scale in his possession, according to a sheriff’s department news release.
The woman with Thomas during the shooting incident was arrested on an outstanding warrant from Washington County, Tenn., Anderson added.
This is the second time in three weeks that a Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department officer has been involved in a deadly shooting.
“It’s unpleasant for everybody,” Anderson said. “We live in a mean world and a violent world. I don’t want to scare anybody but it seems like it’s getting worse.”