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RESERVE DEPUTY FIRED, CHARGED FOR FIRING AT FLEEING PICKUP

Sheriff Charlie McDonald and District Attorney Greg Newman speak to the press about the firing of an off-duty reserve deputy who fired a shotgun into a vehicle driven by a suspected drunk driver. Sheriff Charlie McDonald and District Attorney Greg Newman speak to the press about the firing of an off-duty reserve deputy who fired a shotgun into a vehicle driven by a suspected drunk driver.

The reserve deputy who fired a shotgun at a suspected drunk driver fleeing from law officers has been fired and charged with a felony, Henderson County Sheriff Charlie McDonald announced today.

 In a news conference just before 5 p.m. McDonald said the actions by Ted R. Blackwell, Jr., 64, had violated sheriff department policies. After an internal  investigation that McDonald and District Attorney Greg Newman reviewed, the charges were brought. Blackwell, who has retained an attorney, faces a first appearance in Henderson County District Court on Tuesday morning.

Ted Blackwell Ted Blackwell He faces a maximum penalty of almost 17 years in prison on the charge of firing into a moving occupied vehicle. Given the lack of a criminal record, the maximum penalty would more realistically be four to five years, Newman said.

The sheriff's department policy "strictly prohibits a deputy from discharging a firearm to warn, intimate, frighten a person or to fire warning shots," McDonald said. "All of our officers are aware of that."

The shotgun blast hit the fleeing pickup truck's engine but did not damage.

"We don't think that that shot had any effect on the outcome of the chase," McDonald said. Although it hit the engine area of the Dodge Dakota it "didn't do anything to disable the vehicle."

A reserve deputy since 1986, Blackwell had not worked for the sheriff's department in a paid capacity since McDonald took office in March 2012. After officers, the sheriff and district attorney made the decision to charge him, Blackwell turned himself in at the sheriff's's office and was jailed in the Henderson County detention center under a $25,000 bond. He made bond on Monday and was released.

Asked why the investigation was handled locally and not by the SBI — as often happens when an officer fires at a suspect — the sheriff said, "We could certainly do it more quickly. Initially it was a policy violation and as we looked at details we determined there was certainly a crimial element to look at."

McDonald said the outcome would have been no different for a civilian.

"We hold our people to a higher standard," he said. "We certainly aren't going to be any harsher on Mr. Blackwell but we're certainly not going to look like we've done anything deferential either. He made the decision that he did. He has to live with that."

Although McDonald has said there is a role for civilians to help law officers, he made the distinction that the armed civilian must be asked to help.

"Certainly in the event any civilian is ever asked to participate in a lawful act, they are covered by North Carolina statute," he said. "Under the circumstances, the individual was not requested and was not acting under my authority at that point in time."

"I worked with Ted for a number of years and he served in law enforcement and in the medical profession very well," he said when asked what he knew of Blackwell's record as a sheriff's deputy. "It's just an unfortunate incident and bad judgment on his part."

A District Court judge on Tuesday likely will set a probable cause hearing date within two weeks, Newman said. "We'll either resolve the case here in District Court or it may result in an indictment ... to be dealt with in the future. We just have to play that out with the process, (and let it) take its course where he'll be able (through rules of discovery) to obtain all the evidence being held against him. He'll get to review that."

Blackwell was following the chase on a police radio and fired the shot as the fleeing driver passed his house in Dana on Friday afternoon, the sheriff's office said. Law officers who chased the vehicle through two apple orchards stopped the driver about three minutes after the gun blast. The driver, Jonathan Keith Lyda, 43, of 26 Imperial Drive, faces numerous charges, including felony fleeing to elude arrest. He was jailed under $18,300 bond.

The episode started at 5:10 Friday afternoon when a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper caught up with a suspected impaired driver on Howard Gap Road in Hendersonville. The suspect vehicle had been identified as being in an earlier hit and run near the area. The pursuit continued outbound on Dana Road into an apple orchard near Hoots Drive. As the suspect vehicle came out of the apple orchard and started back inbound toward town law enforcement officers again joined the chase. The suspect turned into another apple orchard as the pursuit continued toward Old Dana Road.

While on Old Dana Road, the off duty reserve deputy from the sheriff’s office, who had monitored the pursuit on a radio, fired one round from a personally owned shotgun and struck the fleeing vehicle as it came by his residence. Neither the driver of the vehicle nor any officers were injured by the shot. Approximately three minutes later, at 5:29 pm, officers from the North Carolina Highway Patrol, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and Hendersonville Police Department took the suspect into custody on Imperial Drive near his house.

Blackwell was immediately placed on suspension pending the outcome of the internal investigation.

“I am always concerned when deadly force is used and we are thankful that the situation was controlled with no one being injured," McDonald said Friday. "That being said, fairness requires that this office make no further comment prior to the conclusion of the investigation and counsel with the District Attorney."