Fifth suspect in chase, fatal shooting, enters guilty plea
The fifth and final suspect in a high-speed chase in 2018 that ended with the shooting death of one of the suspects by police entered a guilty plea in Carbon County court on Monday.
Mitchell Lawrence Knight, 28, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, pleaded before Judge Joseph J. Matika to one count each of fleeing or attempting to elude police, a felony, and receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor.
Matika immediately sentenced him to serve one day less 12 to one day less 24 months in the county prison on the fleeing count and three months to 356 days on the receiving charge with the terms running concurrently. Knight has been an inmate in the prison since the day of the incident, Dec. 18, 2018, and was given credit for 356 days already served. He still has nine days to serve.
District Attorney Jean A. Engler said Knight committed the most “grievous” act of the five suspects because he drove the van during the high-speed chase that put police and the general public in harm’s way. She added that the plea deal negotiated in which the 12 to 24 months sentence was imposed, was appropriate considering the facts of the case.
The four co-defendants in the case have all entered pleas, were sentenced to prison terms, have served their minimum terms and have been released from custody.
Money, checks found
According to court documents the suspects were found with $10,517.29 in cash, and during the chase, numerous stolen bank checks were thrown from the vehicle.
“It is believed that the occupants of the fleeing vehicle may be involved in a nationwide theft ring known as Felony Lane Gang,” police wrote in a search warrant affidavit for the men’s phones.
The Felony Lane Gang, believed to have originated in Fort Lauderdale, is reported to have stolen millions of dollars using stolen checks and identification.
In Lackawanna County, the checks found were reported stolen after separate break-ins. The victims were both women who said someone broke into their vehicles and stole their purses.
Police learned that a woman had cashed three of the stolen checks the day before the chase. The woman used the ID from one of the victims to cash two checks, and it appeared she altered her appearance to look more like the victim to fool the bank teller.
Fifteen checks were recovered.
One of the van occupants, Danny Washington, 27, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, died the same night of the incident at St. Luke’s Allentown Campus of a gunshot wound.
Engler, following an investigation, ruled the shooting accidental.
Others in the van with Knight and Washington and were Creshaun Demetrick Caldwell, 23; Cedric Lamont Cason, 39; and Tyrone Wesley Parker Jr., 19, all of Florida.
On May 14, Caldwell entered a plea to a receiving charge before Matika and was sentenced to time-served (146 days) to one year in jail and ordered he render 25 hours of community service.
On June 17, Parker entered a guilty plea before Matika to a charge of receiving stolen property.
He was sentenced to serve six to 12 months in prison and render 25 hours of community service. He was given credit for 181 days already served and paroled.
On Sept. 3 Cason entered a guilty plea before Matika to a charge of receiving stolen property and was sentenced to serve six to 12 months in the county prison. Cason was given credit for 259 days already served and paroled.
Knight was identified as the driver after a KFC receipt was found in the vehicle, and surveillance footage showed Knight driving the minivan earlier that day.
According to state police, the shooting occurred at 5:25 p.m. when Washington was struggling with a municipal officer.
Through a right-to-know request, the Times News learned that the police departments involved in the altercation with Washington were from Lehighton and Palmerton borough forces.
The struggle came after police successfully disabled the white Chrysler minivan, which reached speeds up to 90 mph during a 17-minute chase across the county.
The minivan came to a stop on Interchange Road (Route 209) near Court Street in Franklin Township.
The suspects refused to get out of the vehicle, prompting multiple police officers to approach the vehicle to take them into custody.
The chase began after an officer with Beaver Meadows Police Department stopped the minivan for violations.
During the traffic stop, the van fled and a pursuit began. Multiple local police departments joined in the pursuit as it traveled down Route 93 south, onto Route 209 north through the boroughs of Jim Thorpe and Lehighton, and eventually across the Thomas J. McCall Memorial Bridge into Franklin Township, where police disabled the vehicle.
As the officer was trying to take Washington into custody, troopers said, the two struggled and bumped into an officer’s service weapon which discharged, striking Washington.
In addition to the prison term Matika ordered Knight to supply a DNA sample, pay court costs of about $1,000 and won’t be released until he submits a pre-parole plan which has to be approved by the adult probation office.
The plan must include a permanent residence he will live at when released.