A view of a car driven by Vlad Palli, 23, of Augusta, after it had crashed in a ditch Sunday on Front Street in Richmond. Palli had initially been stopped in Wiscasset before fleeing in his vehicle. Photo courtesy of the Richmond Police Department

RICHMOND — Police say a man who drove away from a traffic stop arrest Sunday in Wiscasset was taken into custody after he crashed his vehicle in Richmond.

Vlad Palli, 23, of Augusta, is initially charged with violating conditions of release, operating under the influence, operating without a license and escaping, and was held without bail Sunday at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset. He was expected to have his initial appearance in court in Wiscasset on Monday.

He was able to drive away from the scene of his arrest in the Wiscasset village because he had been handcuffed with his hands in front of him.

Wiscasset Police received a report at 12:34 p.m. Sunday of a car heading south on U.S. Route 1 being driven erratically.

Wiscasset Police Chief Lawrence Hesseltine said a caller reported a sedan was speeding and passing people in the breakdown lane just north of the Davey Bridge, which crosses the Sheepscot River,  just before the breakdown lane ends.

“The caller thought he was going so fast he was going to hit the bridge,” Hesseltine said, but the vehicle’s driver managed to merge into the heavy southbound traffic on the bridge.

The driver also nearly caused a head-on collision in Edgecomb when his vehicle skidded briefly into the northbound lane.

Hesseltine said he was at Water Street and Route 1 when the call came in and saw the car as it was coming across the bridge. He pulled out onto Route 1 just behind it and stopped it at Pleasant Street, just south of the village.

Hesseltine said the traffic stop was routine for a suspected drunken driver; he administered a field sobriety test and arrested the driver, with his hands cuffed in front of him and placed him in the back of his police car. Hesseltine said a female passenger refused to give her name and walked away from the traffic stop.

Hesseltine said he suspected Palli had dropped something in between the seats of the cruiser, so he removed Palli from his vehicle, and while he was searching, Palli got back in the car he had been driving and drove away. Because of the sharp curve in Route 1, Hesseltine couldn’t see which direction he took, but he drove south on Route 1 looking for him because Palli had said he was going to Portland.

“I didn’t know which way he went, traffic was so thick,” he said.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office issued a bulletin on the car, and a deputy on state Route 27 in Dresden identified the car and started pursuing it, but stopped the pursuit because of safety concerns over the high rate of speed, Lt. Brendan Kane, of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday via email.

The vehicle continued on Route 197, over the Maine Kennebec Bridge, which links Dresden and Richmond, and turned south on Front Street, where Palli apparently lost control of the vehicle and it slid down an embankment near the intersection of Front and Kimball streets, landing on its side.

After Palli got out of the car, he hid in the heavily wooded area while police searched for him.

Richmond Police Chief James Donnell said Palli ran from the car and tried to get into a nearby house before he heard the police dog from the Topsham Police Department’s K-9 team that had also responded, and gave himself up.

In the course of his investigation, Hesseltine said he found Palli had a conditional driver’s license following a prior OUI arrest this year; one of the conditions was that he not consume alcohol. He was also under bail conditions from Cumberland County.

In a post on the Wiscasset Police Department’s Facebook page on Monday, Hesseltine addressed his decision to handcuff a suspect in front rather than behind his back.

“I am embarrassed by how the events unfolding and thankful that the incident came to a peaceful resolution without anyone being injured,” he wrote. “I try to treat every situation as a separate incident and try my best not to group everyone I deal with into one category.

“We are all humans and make mistakes and I do not judge people because they made a mistake,” he wrote. “I try to be respectful to everyone I arrest and treat them with respect.”

Hesseltine said he has heard complaints about how police officers conduct themselves and how people are treated during arrests. He said he chose to handcuff the individual in front, something he has done before, noting that this arrest didn’t feel any different from any of the hundreds of OUI arrests he’s made over the three decades of his career. But when he was briefly distracted, the suspect took advantage of that and was able to drive off.

“This happened plain and simple because I did not follow my training and handcuff the suspect behind his back,” Hesseltine wrote. “Doing so would have eliminated the chance of escape and would not have put the public or the officers in Richmond at risk.”

“Going forward if you ever find yourself in a situation of being arrested and feel you are being mistreated or being treated harshly, remember this incident,” he wrote. “We are trained to do things for a reason, that is to protect everyone involved and the general public. In this situation I failed to do that and am truly sorry.”

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