A Windham man was cooling his heels in the Cumberland County Jail on Tuesday after being accused of leading police and bystanders on a harrowing, drug-fueled chase that ended when he ran onto Interstate 295 in an attempt to get into passing motorists’ cars, and was dragged twice as he clung to vehicles whose drivers refused to stop for him.

Joshua Nelson

Joshua D. Nelson, 43, is charged with reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, leaving the scene of an accident, driving to endanger, unlawful possession of scheduled drugs and criminal mischief, according to court records.

His bail was set at $25,000 during a brief court appearance Monday afternoon, but Nelson’s probation officer ordered him held for suspected violations of the conditions of his release regarding an earlier prison sentence for robbery.

Witnesses and court records describe a chaotic series of events that began shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, where a police officer attempted to pull over Nelson in his wife’s silver 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier for having an “inadequate passenger side brake light,” the officer later wrote in a report.

Nelson stopped the car on Chestnut Street near Oxford Street and let a passenger out. But Nelson then sped off down the hill with police in pursuit. He turned onto Somerset Street and then onto Elm Street and headed toward the Preble Street extension around Back Cove.

Police broke off the chase near Marginal Way after an officer lost sight of the vehicle. But, moments later, a call came over the radio about a report of a head-on collision nearby, according to police reports filed in support of the charges.

In his haste to flee police, Nelson apparently failed to negotiate a turn at Preble Street and Forest Avenue and slammed head-on into a car stopped at the light, which also damaged a third vehicle. No one was seriously injured. A pregnant woman in one of the other vehicles was determined to be OK.

But the chase didn’t end there, according to a witness and police reports. After the crash, Nelson immediately got out of the car and ran up the center of Falmouth Street, the roadway that runs through the University of Southern Maine campus.

That is about the time Chad Nelson, 38, was driving on Falmouth Street in a box truck that he was using to move his belongings to a new apartment. He is not related to Joshua Nelson.

It was a beautiful spring day, and the truck’s window was open, Chad Nelson said. Before he knew what was happening, a bystander on the sidewalk – later identified in police reports as George M. Chaison-Lapine, 20 – yelled for him to lock his doors. Then, directly in front of him, Nelson saw the man running toward his truck.

“I slowed down and he came up and I hit my door lock,” Chad Nelson said. “He pulled on the door to try to open the door.”

In an interview, Chad Nelson said he watched through his side mirror as the man also tried to open the car door of the vehicle behind him, and failed. He then took off running across campus parking lots toward a low chain-link fence that separates the college property from Interstate 295.

In a separate interview, Chaison-Lapine said he followed the suspect and watched him hop the fence. When Chaison-Lapine reached the fence area, he stopped.

“I made the decision I’m not going to follow him over the fence,” Chaison-Lapine said. “The driver of the box truck then just shows up right next to me. He said, ‘Hey man there’s two of us, if he tries anything, let’s just go for it.’ So me and this guy who I don’t know jump the fence and follow the suspect into the highway.”

Chad Nelson also checked that Chaison-Lapine had called police on his cellphone.

“I ran up to (Chaison-Lapine), I said, ‘Are you still on the phone with the cops?’ and he said ‘Yes,'” Chad Nelson said. “Then he jumped the fence after I did.”

Both Chad Nelson and Chaison-Lapine said they followed the suspect through traffic that slowed down for them, trying to warn drivers to roll up their windows, lock their doors and keep moving, they both said.

At one point, Chad Nelson was close enough to the suspect to reach out for him.

“I grabbed his arm and begged him not to go on the interstate because he was going to get hit,” Chad Nelson said. “He pulled out a knife. He pointed it at me. Mind you he wasn’t saying a word.”

Both men said they were baffled at how, during the encounter, the suspect was within feet of them, easily within earshot of their pleas for him to stop, but he said nothing in return.

Chaisson-Lapine said the man even grabbed onto one car in the southbound lanes that did not stop, dragging him for about 50 feet before the suspect let go and rolled to a stop nearby.

The suspect was apparently unfazed. Chad Nelson said he watched him get back up, cross the median to the northbound lanes and proceed to stop traffic there, too, at one point clinging for a moment to a moving tractor trailer.

“He pulled on a couple of door handles. He tried for everyone he could,” Chad Nelson said.

Police cruisers soon arrived, Chad Nelson said, and he watched as an officer drew his weapon and ordered Joshua Nelson to the ground on the far side of the northbound lanes near the Deering Avenue overpass.

And there was a possible explanation for why the running suspect was so reluctant to speak. As police approached him, another witness saw him spit out two small plastic baggies that later tested positive for crack cocaine.

After the police took control of the situation, Nelson and Chaison-Lapine hugged briefly and parted ways, without learning the other’s name.

“There was a lot of adrenaline,” Chad Nelson said.

Following his arrest, Joshua Nelson apologized for his actions, according to court papers. And, in an interview after being read his Miranda rights, he told police that he was released from prison in late May, and that he had spent part of the afternoon asking around for drugs near Preble Street.

“Nelson informed me he would ask ‘I’m looking for up town’ to specify he was looking for crack cocaine,” an officer said in the police report.

Eventually he found someone he knew from prison, who led him to a house near High Street and Spring Street, where Joshua Nelson told police he bought three small baggies of crack cocaine totaling 1.5 grams for $100, and that he was smoking it as he was driving around Portland before he was pulled over.

In his police interview, Nelson said he remembered the car crash on Forest Avenue, running near the college and crossing 295 in search of someone to give him a ride. He also said he noticed the strangers who were chasing him.

“This is the only thing that can come from using drugs,” Nelson told an officer, according to the documents. “Death or jail. This (expletive) takes me right over, makes me a totally different person. I did what I did. Nail it to me.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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