Mass. officer dragged behind stolen vehicle during pursuit; woman arrested

The woman, who stole a truck from a worksite and then led police on a pursuit through the city for nearly two hours, is facing 13 different charges

By Noah R. Bombard

WORCESTER, Mass. — A woman Worcester police say stole a truck from a worksite and then led them on a chase through the city is facing 13 different charges after police caught up to her at a McDonald’s drive-through.

According to Worcester police, Johanna Gardell, 38, of Oriol Drive, Worcester, stole a pick-up truck on Lake Avenue around 8:45 a.m. Tuesday before running red lights, driving the wrong way down the street, driving into a van and hitting a police cruiser and dragging a detail officer in attempts to evade police.

Raymond James Simoncini, owner of Raymond James Restoration, told MassLive the vehicle belongs to his company and was stolen off a job site on Lake Avenue Tuesday morning. According to Simoncini, when police caught up with the woman, she claimed the truck was hers. Simoncini said he recognized Gardell as someone who would hang out in the area.

Simoncini had GPS on the vehicle which, according to police, let them track it, prompting them to back off the chase when Gardell allegedly began driving dangerously.

Police were flagged down by a driver on Belmont Street whose vehicle he said had been struck by the stolen truck. Officers then discovered the stolen vehicle on Charlton Street.

“The officer activated his blue lights, got out of his cruiser, and approached the stolen vehicle,” police said in a press release. “The operator ... drove away as the officer walked toward her. The officer got back into his cruiser and followed her at a low rate of speed, but she did not stop. Ms. Gardell began to increase her speed on Main Street and drove through red lights.”

Police said the officer deactivated his lights and sirens and stopped following her for safety reasons.

The vehicle then stopped near 939 Main St., police said. They alleged Gardell then struck the van when she drove in the wrong lane and against traffic in an attempt to go around stopped vehicles.

“At this point, two officers working a detail and another officer in the area approached the vehicle in an attempt to extract Ms. Gardell,” police said. “She backed up the vehicle at a high rate of speed and struck a cruiser behind her, and knocked down and dragged one of the detail officers. Officers pursued the stolen vehicle at a low rate of speed before the pursuit was called off for safety reasons.”

A review of police scanner audio showed police backing off the pursuit, saying they believed they had identified her and could continue to track her via GPS.

Shortly after, police located Gardell in line at the McDonald’s drive-through on Shrewsbury Street where they attempted to call the restaurant to delay the line.

Two police vehicles approached her and she then struck one of the vehicles, but went off the road and got her vehicle stuck in the mulch on McDonald’s property, police said.

According to police, Gardell fought and struggled as officers pulled her out of the vehicle.

Gardell is charged with Failure to Stop for Police, Marked Lanes Violation, Operating to Endanger, Red Light Violation, Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Property Damage, Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Personal Injury, Assault and Battery by means of a Dangerous Weapon (Motor Vehicle), Assault by means of a Dangerous Weapon (Motor Vehicle), Malicious Mischief to Motor Vehicle, Disturbing the Peace, Disorderly Conduct, Operating a Motor Vehicle After Suspension (Driver’s License) and Use of Motor Vehicle without Authority. She will be arraigned in court.

The officer who was struck by the vehicle was injured and transported to the hospital but his injuries are not life-threatening.

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