Crime & Courts

Suspect caught after manhunt in Hickory

A 34-year-old Catawba County man was jailed without bond Wednesday after he allegedly fired at police officers and then hid overnight in woods behind homes in Hickory.

The suspect was captured Wednesday morning, about nine hours after Hickory police surrounded a 40-acre area where he was hiding, police said.

James Brandon Smith, of Newton, faces six felony charges, according to Hickory police. An alleged accomplice, 34-year-old Erin Olivia Shell of Hickory, also was arrested.

“It was quite a morning in our neighborhood,” said Laurie Childres, who said Smith emerged from the woods behind her house on 17th Avenue NE.

Police said the series of events began about 9 p.m., when a man called to say his Jeep Cherokee was stolen from a Raceway gas station on U.S. 321. The caller said a Springfield 9mm gun was on the console of the SUV and also was taken.

Investigators said video surveillance from the store showed that Smith and Shell drove into the parking lot in a Ford Expedition. Police said the video showed Smith leaving in the Jeep Cherokee.

Officers spotted the Jeep near Civitan Park but said Smith eluded them. A short time later, a resident in the area called police and said the Jeep was in a wooded area at the end of 17th Avenue, with the motor running.

Police identified the Jeep as the stolen vehicle and called in a K9 dog unit to look for Smith. But officers said Smith fired three shots at them, and police retreated.

Childres said she heard the shots when she took her dog outside. “The dog got scared and ran back in the house,” she said.

Rather than enter the woods, police said they set up a perimeter around the area and waited for daylight.

Around daybreak Wednesday, police sent out an automated phone call to residents, warning them to stay indoors and not to leave children at school bus stops. Nearby Hickory High School and Northview Middle School were put on a Code Yellow lockdown, with visitors not permitted to enter.

Childres said about 7 a.m., she looked out her back window and saw a man using a stick to cut his way through the underbrush.

“The man had no shirt, and he was cutting his way out of the brush and headed for my backyard,” she said. “I called 911 and told them, ‘He’ll be in my backyard in about 30 seconds.’ ”

She said moments later, a group of police officers arrived. Smith tried to run, she said, but tripped over a trash can in her back yard. He quickly was overwhelmed by police.

“He wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes,” Childres said. “I don’t know how he got through those woods.”

Police said they charged Smith with four counts of assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer, larceny of a motor vehicle, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, DWI, driving while license revoked, and hit and run causing property damage.

Shell was charged with felony aiding and abetting and driving while license revoked, police said.