Saturday I-43 chase another in spate of pursuits

Man arrested after running over spikes joins a number of drivers charged with trying to speed away from officers in county
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press Staff

Alerted by alarmed motorists, authorities late Saturday afternoon chased an SUV that was weaving across lanes of I-43 in Ozaukee County as it sped north to Port Washington where, disabled by road spikes, the vehicle slid into the median and the 60-year-old driver was arrested.

It was another in a spate of incidents triggered by drivers who, rather than stopping for police, take off in desperate attempts to avoid arrest by weaving at dangerous speeds through freeway traffic or racing through cities, villages and towns in Ozaukee County.

“Fleeing the police is nothing new, but it’s become more prevalent,” said Port Washington Police Department Capt. Mike Davel, whose officers helped stop the SUV driver arrested Saturday. 

Police chases, like their cliche depictions in action movies, are, indeed, nothing new, but the training officers today rely on when deciding whether to race after drivers who ignore the flashing lights and sirens has evolved.

“Back in the day, a pursuit was a pursuit,” Davel said. “You chased him until you caught him or he crashed.

“But things have changed in terms of when police will pursue.”

Because chases frequently involve multiple departments, local law enforcement agencies follow a county-wide pursuit policy that instructs officers to weigh the seriousness of the offense the people fleeing are suspected of committing and the danger they pose to other motorists against the risk a chase would pose to the public and officers, taking into account factors that range from road conditions and locations to time of day and traffic volume, Ozaukee Sheriff’s Office Capt. Marshall Hermann said. 

On Saturday, motorists who said the SUV was swerving across the northbound lanes of I-43 almost hitting other cars indicated the driver was a danger to others on the road, according to a criminal complaint filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court Monday charging James Wilburn of Sheboygan with attempting to flee an officer, a felony.

At about 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 1, a sheriff’s deputy spotted Wilburn driving north on the freeway in Mequon and attempted to pull him over.

Instead of stopping, Wilburn continued driving at speeds that reached about 90 mph, the complaint states.

As Wilburn sped through Ozaukee County, Port Washington police officers set up tire spikes on I-43. With two flat tires, Wilburn’s SUV swerved across traffic lanes before driving into the median and stopping.

Officers surrounded the SUV and ordered Wilburn to turn off the vehicle and put his hands out the window. Instead he tried unsuccessfully to drive out of the snowy median, according to the complaint.

Wilburn, who was unsteady and needed help standing and could barely keep his eyes open, told officers he had taken Benadryl and was tired, the complaint states.

Officers found a butcher knife in the center console of the SUV Wilburn was driving, leading to a charge of carrying a concealed knife. Because he was convicted in 2013 of robbery in Cook County, Ill., Wilburn is prohibited from carrying a concealed knife, according to the complaint.

But there are other times when officers decide a chase is too dangerous.

“We probably see more pursuits being broken off than continuing,” Hermann said. 

That was the case in September in Port Washington when a sheriff’s deputy who was monitoring reports of a reckless driver on I-43 saw a Cadillac matching the description of the vehicle pull off the freeway and into the Arby’s drive-through on the north side of Port. 

The deputy approached the vehicle and activated his squad car’s emergency lights. That’s when the driver, 20-year-old Jordan Murdock of Green Bay, took off, hitting speeds of more than 90 mph as he drove south on a busy Wisconsin Street toward downtown Port at about 4:30 p.m. Friday Sept. 13.

Port Washington police officer Kirstin Moertl was parked at Drews True Value Hardware just south of the Arby’s and saw Murdock’s car race past. She pulled out and followed Murdock as cars skidded off Wisconsin Street to avoid the speeding Cadillac, but she broke off the chase.

“That really wasn’t even a pursuit,” Davel said. “Our officer rightly recognized it was too dangerous to pursue in that situation.”

Murdock tore through downtown on Franklin Street, then managed to make the turn onto Grand Avenue before abandoning his car near the harbor and running away. An officer found him a short time later hiding in a maggot-infested dumpster.

Murdock has pleaded not guilty to two counts of fleeing an officer and first-degree recklessly endangering safety, all felonies, but is scheduled to appear in court later this month to change his pleas and be sentenced.

Authorities said Murdock appeared to be strung out on drugs and has a felony record, which may explain why he sped away from officers. 

Even in cases where drivers have criminal records and want desperately to avoid going back to jail, it amazes officers they decide to flee, especially in cases where officers know exactly who they’re chasing and it’s just a matter of time before they are arrested. 

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, a Port Washington police officer checked the registration of a vehicle driving on Portview Drive on the city’s southwest side and, after learning the registered owner of the car did not have a driver’s license, attempted to pull the car over.

The driver, 25-year-old Alexander W. Gallas of Port, turned south onto Westport Drive and sped away, according to the criminal complaint charging Gallas with attempting to flee an officer and obstructing an officer.

Minutes later, Gallas crashed his car into a tree near Sunset Road and ran away. 

But by this time, police knew who he was and where he lived, so officers called Gallas’ mother, who told them he was at a factory in the city’s southside industrial park. As officers approached the factory, they saw him run out of an emergency exit. Inside the factory’s locker room, authorities found a bloody shirt and Gallas’ Social Security card, the complaint states.

A warrant was issued and a day later Gallas was arrested in Milwaukee County.

Gallas is being held in the Ozaukee County jail in lieu of $15,000 bail. He was convicted in 2015 of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of extended supervision. He was still on extended supervision when he fled from police, according to the complaint.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and just when I think I’ve seen it all, something like this happens. We knew who he was, but he fled anyway,” Davel said, referring to Gallas. “It’s better to go with the flow and stop for officers. Your time to argue your case is in court.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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