Police chase ends with arrest in Woodstock

wpd HZTA New Year’s Eve police chase that began in Saugerties ended at the foot of MacDaniel Road in Shady when officers from multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Woodstock Police Department, subdued and arrested an armed Phoenicia man on a raft of felony and misdemeanor charges.

At the time of his arrest, the suspect’s car contained a shotgun and a rifle, both loaded, said Woodstock police chief Clayton Keefe in a January 1 interview. According to Keefe, the suspect, John Howland, 63, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in Colorado in 2001. New York State law prohibits the possession of guns by convicted felons.

According to a news release provided by the Saugerties police chief, Joseph Sinagra, the pursuit was prompted by a 9:25 p.m. call to Saugerties police from a local resident who stated that a man with a shotgun was threatening to harm an individual (reportedly his former girlfriend) who the man believed was present at a Montgomery Street residence in the village. The suspect fled the scene in a 1992 Toyota Camry when police arrived, ignoring officers’ orders to stop as he drove west toward Woodstock.


In Keefe’s account of the ensuing chase, Howland exited Saugerties on Route 212 and proceeded to West Saugerties Road, apparently by way of Goat Hill Road and Stoll Road. Woodstock police sergeant David Downes, accompanied by officer Brian Williams, set up a roadblock with their patrol car near the intersection of West Saugerties Road and Glasco Turnpike.


Shots fired

The Woodstock officers positioned themselves on one side of the Glasco Turnpike roadway, just west of the intersection, and waited for the Toyota to appear. Soon enough it did, but not for long, as the suspect maneuvered the vehicle through a narrow gap in the roadblock — forcing Downes and Williams to leap over a guardrail and into a snowbank, said Keefe — and continued west on Glasco Turnpike, eventually turning right onto Meads Mountain Road and crossing Overlook Mountain into Shady.

The encounter at the roadblock supplied a local historical footnote. With his department-issued Glock .40-caliber handgun, Downes fired three shots at the suspect’s vehicle as it evaded the blockade, said Keefe. (None of the bullets appear to have struck either the suspect or his car, the chief noted.) The incident marked the first time in recent memory — at least 25 years, anecdotal evidence suggests — that a Woodstock police officer discharged a firearm at a human being or related target in the line of duty.

While his shots failed to stop the suspect at the roadblock, Downes, undeterred, raced through Woodstock and, via Route 212, on to Shady, where he and Williams established a new blockade at the single-lane bridge where MacDaniel Road meets Reynolds Lane and Hutchin Hill Road.


Stopped in Shady

Among those awaiting the suspect at the Shady site were officers from the Woodstock, Saugerties, and Olive police departments, the county sheriff’s office, and the state police, who fortified the roadblock with “spike strips” designed to puncture a vehicle’s tires. Eventually, said an eyewitness, more than a dozen police vehicles surrounded the site of the roadblock. Howland stopped his car on the bridge when he encountered the barrier, said Keefe, and was subdued by a state police officer’s Taser when he was uncooperative.

Personnel from Woodstock Fire Company No. 5, the rescue squad, treated Howland for what Keefe described as minor facial injuries that the suspect sustained when he was forced to the ground after removal from his vehicle. Members of the state police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation collected evidence at the scene.

Keefe arrived in Shady after the suspect had been taken into custody. Earlier, said the chief, Woodstock officer Frank Dedrick assisted Saugerties police in the pursuit of Howland, joining the chase around Goat Hill Road, which links Route 212 and West Saugerties Road. Keefe reported that all Woodstock officers who participated in the chase and capture of the suspect were unhurt. “They all did a very good job, were very professional,” he said.

Following his arrest in Shady, Howland was arraigned in Saugerties Village Court on multiple felony charges, including criminal possession of a weapon, unlawful flight from a police officer, and criminal contempt related to the alleged violation of an order of protection. The suspect was also charged with misdemeanors including drunken driving, reckless driving, and other vehicular infractions. He was reportedly remanded to the county jail in lieu of $25,000 bail.


Councilman at scene

Sometime between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., the sudden convergence of police vehicles and officers disrupted what had been a quiet New Year’s Eve gathering at the nearby Hutchin Hill Road home of Woodstock councilman Bill McKenna and his wife, Hilary Sanders-McKenna, who with their young son, Gabriel, were spending the evening with a Willow couple, Nigel Hodge and Nancy Kantor-Hodge.

“We heard sirens and saw lights,” said McKenna in an interview. “We saw one car turn up MacDaniel Road and then stop. Four more cars pulled up. I wasn’t clear about the identity of the vehicles, but it was very obvious that a police chase was going on, that it was not a routine traffic stop. Police officers, some carrying long guns, were running past. We were waiting for a shootout to begin, but no shots were fired. From my vantage point there was excellent communication between the police departments at the scene.”

Said Hodge: “I was facing in the direction of the scene and saw the flashing police lights. Bill is a member of the Woodstock Fire Department, but this was not something that he would normally be called about. When he opened a sliding door onto the scene, we immediately heard police instructions being shouted very loudly.”

McKenna directed his family to safe quarters at the back of his house while he and Hodge watched the drama unfold from his deck. “I saw cars and red lights coming down the mountain — what the police were waiting for,” the councilman continued. “When the suspect’s car appeared I heard yells of ‘Stop. Get on the ground,’ and ‘No, no, no,’ and then I heard the muffled thump of a Taser.”

While cellular service is generally unavailable in the western part of Woodstock, including Shady, McKenna had a “network extender” device that enabled a frustrated sheriff’s detective to make calls from the councilman’s property.

When the police action finally concluded, around 11:30 p.m., the McKennas and their guests resumed their New Year’s Eve celebration. “Thankfully, the police brought the incident to a peaceful resolution,” said the councilman. “At midnight we watched the Times Square ball go down.”

There are 2 comments

  1. gerald berke

    The discharge of the glock doesn’t sound good… he missed the whole car? Interview the officer: perhaps he was shooting at the tires… that would seem more likely. If in fact he was shooting at the man and or/the car: that’s not good at all.
    Bad too that the roadblock was not set up effectively… good performance, but not a great one…

  2. C Desmond

    I do not know the rules of engagement here, but it appears that officer Downs appears to have acted on intuition, which also appears flawed and outside the Rules of Engagement here. Aside from endangering anyone at the scene by spray shooting at a vehicle moving away from him (in an area that is populated), he then pursued, presumably at speed, over a rural road that is heavily populated and traveled. As the identity as well as the vehicle of the perp were known, there are procedures to apprehend under circumstances that do not involve the kind of impetuous and dangerous MO exhibited by this maverick officer. Wish that Downs not know my name based on this kind of erratic behavior.

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