DEXTER - What started as an attempt to arrest three men suspected of stealing anhydrous ammonia ended in a Missouri State Highway patrolman being gassed, nearly run down, then dragged through the mud shortly after midnight Wednesday.
According to the Highway Patrol, the incident occurred at approximately 12:05 a.m. when a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper working with a Stoddard County deputy observed three occupants of a blue Chevrolet Camaro stealing anhydrous ammonia from an agriculture co-op near the Cape Girardeau/Scott County line.
According to reports, rather than risk the men scattering on foot, the officers let them return to their vehicle, believing it would be easier to arrest them if the subjects were contained. But when police attempted to perform a traffic stop, the Camaro entered a private drive, turned around, and then rammed the patrol vehicle nearly head-on before speeding off again, leading police through the towns of Painton and Perkins, reportedly exceeding speeds of 100 miles an hour.
Highway Patrol Trooper Aaron Harrison was in pursuit when one of the suspects threw a container of anhydrous ammonia from the car, causing it to burst and create a cloud of anhydrous gas which the trooper drove through.
When Stoddard County sheriff's deputies pulled in front of the fleeing vehicle, it tore off across a muddy soybean field, with Harrison still in pursuit.
Two passengers, later identified as Jeremy Joe Ledbetter, 20, of Piggott, Ark., and David Wayne Fry, 34, of Malden, fled on foot through the woods, but the driver, Ricky Gene Lerma, 23, of Risco remained with the vehicle.
The trooper went to the driver's door and told the driver to turn off the vehicle. As he reached in to remove Lerma from the vehicle, Lerma put the vehicle into reverse and dragged the trooper into and over several fallen trees. The trooper then fired gunshots in an attempt to disable the vehicle. When the vehicle stopped, Lerma was taken into custody.
Lerma was arrested on a warrant for assault, armed criminal action, stealing, possession of precursor ingredients, possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting arrest, possession of an explosive device and knowingly exploding the device. Bond is set at $150,000 cash.
Ledbetter was arrested on warrants for assaulting a law officer, stealing anhydrous ammonia, armed criminal action, possession of precursor ingredients, possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting arrest, possession of an explosive device and knowingly exploding an explosive address. Bond has been set at $150,000 cash.
Fry was arrested on the same charges and his bond is $135,000 cash.
All three are in the Stoddard County Jail.
The trooper was transported to St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau and treated for inhalation of anhydrous ammonia and a knee injury before being released.
An investigation continues.