RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A 29-year-old man faces multiple charges after police say he stole an armored personnel carrier (APC) from Fort Pickett and traveled through downtown Richmond on June 5.
Joshua Philip Yabut, of Richmond and a member of the Virginia National Guard, has been charged with driving under the influence of drugs, felony eluding and a felony count of unauthorized use of a vehicle in Richmond.
On Friday, authorities in Nottoway County said Yabut will be charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Terry Royall, the Nottoway County Commonwealth's attorney, said she will seek an indictment against Yabut at the next grand jury meeting on July 3. She said the Richmond unauthorized use of a vehicle charge will be dropped when that happens.
He is being held at the Richmond City Jail. He was arraigned on Wednesday and will be back in court on July 11.
Yabut - a first lieutenant assigned as the commander of the Petersburg-based Headquarters Company, 276th Engineer Battalion - is accused of taking the APC from Fort Pickett and driving it up I-95, through the city of Richmond driving down The Boulevard in Scott's Addition, along Broad Street in "The Fan" before surrendering at East Broad and 11th Streets at 9:40 p.m.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Yabut said he was authorized to take the vehicle.
According to the report, Yabut called the charges against him "bogus" and said his commanding officer told him to drive the armored vehicle on a pre-planned route to gauge police response.
However, on Thursday, the Virginia National Guard said "Lt. Yabut was not authorized by the brigade commander or anyone else to drive the armored personnel carrier off Fort Pickett to any location for any reason. There was no exercise to gauge police response."
"I don't know how many cars there were involved," said Herman Baskerville, who has a business near Yabut's home. "It looked like 30-50 police cars between local and state cops."
While Baskerville has never talked to Yabut, a neighbor said she had contacted the soldier Monday when she hadn't seen him in a while. In a text message Yabut told her he would be at training for two weeks.
The neighbor said Yabut was always "very nice, and seemed to have a lot of potential."
"It was a bizarre situation," said NBC12 legal analyst Steve Benjamin.
Benjamin said he can't recall another situation where someone drove an armored personnel carrier through downtown Richmond, let alone on I-95 in a 40 mph pursuit.
Court documents state Yabut was driving erratically, "unable to stay in the lane" on I-95.
Yabut was also apparently posting to his Twitter account during the event, including posting a video:
In court documents an officer wrote, "the [armored] vehicle ran over several cones and construction signs while fleeing police in the Richmond area" which eventually led to a felony eluding police charge.
"If you simply fail to stop, that's a misdemeanor," Benjamin said. "But in failing to stop you endanger other people that's when it becomes a felony."
Yabut also faces a driving under the influence of drugs charge.
Court documents state, "I observed Mr. Yabut to have glassy eyes with dilated pupils, he exhibited slurred speech, and was unsteady on his feet."
A spokesman with the Virginia National Guard said they are conducting an internal investigation of what happened during the routine training Tuesday afternoon.
Yabut has more than 11 years of service, according to the VA National Guard. He deployed to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 with the Illinois National Guard.
According to a VA National Guard spokesman, Yabut is a "traditional guardsman" which means he serves one weekend every month, and receives 15 days of annual training. That annual training was underway when this incident happened.
Bejamin said it's possible Yabut could face military charges depending on the outcome of the investigation.
"Sometimes criminal justice isn't simply right or wrong," Benjamin said. "It's a balancing of a number of circumstances and an understanding of why that person did what they did."
During Yabut's arraignment Tuesday, he told the judge his employment with the National Guard is his only source of income, but that his fiancé helps financially.
The judge did not set bond Wednesday, citing a need to look into the case.
According to the Federal Election Commission's website, Yabut also filed to run for Senate in February.
Witnesses on East Broad Street Tuesday night said authorities used a taser on Yabut in order to get him into custody. A spokeswoman with VSP was not able to confirm that information as of Tuesday night.
Several people reported seeing the vehicle near the Dinwiddie area on 460 heading towards I-95. Police pursued the vehicle on I-95 north, before it exited into the city of Richmond and onto Broad Street.
Warning: video contains foul language
The vehicle was stolen around 7:50 p.m. Police and the National Guard say the vehicle is not a "tank" and was not equipped with any weapons.
The National Guard says Yabut did have his "personal weapon" with him, but he did not have any ammunition.
The APC has been returned to Fort Pickett with no major damage, according to the National Guard.
"We are extremely grateful that there were no injuries as a result of this incident, and we appreciate the great work of the Virginia State Police, Richmond Police Department and other law enforcement and first responders who safely brought this situation to a close," said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. "We have initiated our own internal investigation, and we will determine appropriate actions once the investigation is complete."
While there was no significant damage, there were some close calls. Heading home from Richmond to Blackstone Tuesday, Michelle Good and Brandon Jenkins say they were shaken up when the APC almost ran them off of the road.
"We saw this tank coming, and this guy's head was sticking out," explained Good. "It almost hit us, and [I was] screaming.
The pair was driving with Good's mother when they saw the armored vehicle driving "recklessly and sporadically." Good says at one point, it looked like the APC was coming straight toward their car.
"He swerved into our lane, and we slowed down and hit the brakes, and he over-corrected and ended up going off to the side of the road," said Brandon Jenkins. "When we finally passed him, Michelle said, 'he's going way too fast'."
It wasn't until they were all home safely, that they heard the news, quickly making the connection.
"She had called me and she said 'guess what? that tank that almost hit us is being chased in Dinwiddie County'," said Jenkins. "And I said 'oh my God' and then this morning I found out it ended up in Richmond."
"I just want to know why," said Good. "He was high ranking, what made him do this?"
Jenkins says he has plenty of questions about how the suspect got away in the first place.
"[I want to know] how a tank managed to leave Fort Pickett without being seen or apprehended. There was no reaction whatsoever when he was coming down the road outside of the town of Blackstone," said Jenkins.
They say the situation has been the talk of the town, most people wanting to know why someone would steal a military vehicle in the first place.
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