According to a press release from the Bristol Tennessee Police Department, several Ford trucks were stolen on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The BTPD and Abingdon Police Department launched a joint investigation, with video from an unspecified location identifying potential suspects.
At about 11:45 Wednesday night, an owner of one of the stolen trucks spotted the vehicle traveling on Volunteer Parkway, then alerted police. A traffic stop was attempted by BTPD officers, but the vehicle fled at more than 100 mph.
Soon, deputies with the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office spotted the truck and attempted a stop, but the driver fled on Highway 11-E toward Johnson City. Due to public safety concerns, the pursuit was canceled.
Later, in Washington County, Tenn., the Tennessee Highway Patrol initiated a pursuit of the stolen pickup, spurring a chase back north into Bristol, Tenn., then across the state line into Virginia. Police say speeds again reached more than 100 mph, adding that at times the pickup’s headlights were off. The vehicle was later found abandoned at a gas station off Exit 5 of Interstate 81.
A female passenger, Ashley Renee Justus, 27, of Cedar Bluff, Va., was quickly located nearby. She is charged with possession of meth, possession of marijuana and theft over $10,000.
A subsequent search of the area for the driver, Nathan Ray Blankenship, 29, also of Cedar Bluff, included a Virginia State Police helicopter and police K-9s. Police report that Blankenship was found about a half-mile from where the truck was abandoned.
He now faces multiple charges in both Bristol, Va., and Tennessee including felony theft, felony evading arrest, resisting arrest and possession of meth and marijuana.
According to the BTPD, a search of the stolen truck found evidence linking both Justus and Blankenship to other vehicle thefts. Police anticipate additional charges will be placed in relation to those incidents and the multiple high-speed pursuits.