Chase suspect gets 35-year sentence for evading arrest

June 23, 2011 8:35:48 PM PDT
A dangerous high-speed chase was caught on police dash camera, and the driver put lives at risk while trying to get away from police. Now that driver is spending what will be a good portion of his life behind bars. This is a message that prosecutors and authorities in Montgomery County want to send to anyone thinking about making the same mistake.

The sentencing for the Montgomery County man is severe, but prosecutors and police say the message is a car can be considered a deadly weapon.

Magnolia Police Sgt. Jose Lopez was called to a scene on a December evening last year.

"I was pretty much around the corner. When I made the scene, I was flagged down by one of the managers," he said.

The suspect, Mathew Roppolo, 44, was accused of passing a bad check at a local grocery store. When Lopez arrived, the suspect took off, leading police on a chase reaching 90 miles per hour for almost 10 miles. He cut through yards, parking lots and narrowly missed two school buses.

"He went through a Taco Bell drive-thru and even tried to ram my vehicle twice," Lopez said.

Last week, Roppolo went to trial and was convicted of evading arrest. But what makes the case unusual is his sentence. What might typically be two years in jail was pushed to 35 years in a state prison.

"There's only so many things that we have at our disposal, but now the deterrence is going to be one of the biggest tools," Magnolia Police Department Chief Domingo Ibarra said.

Because of Roppolo's past criminal history -- he's on parole for an 80-year burglary sentence -- and the interpretation of the law by some courts, jurors determined Roppolo's vehicle was a deadly weapon.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled fleeing from law enforcement in a vehicle is a violent crime.

"When somebody gets a sentence like this, it makes people think twice," said Warren Diepraam with the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office.

Diepraam says prosecutors in Montgomery County are coming down hard on reckless drivers and those who ignore police calls to stop.

"That car can take out an entire school bus or an entire family in one strike, so it is a very serious case and poses a significant danger to the public," Diepraam said. "It's something in Montgomery County we take very seriously and that's why we are seeing an uptick in these sorts of cases."

It's sending a message. Behavior like this will get more than a slap on the wrist around there.

"It's a new day in law enforcement, and we are all breathing a sigh of relief," Ibarra said.

Roppolo will be eligible for parole in 17.5 years. Montgomery County had a second similar case right after Roppolo's conviction and sentencing this week.

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