Man sentenced for police chase, assault

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BRATTLEBORO — A man who reportedly was on crack cocaine last year when he led state police on a chase in Londonderry after hitting a trooper in the face, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

"This conduct must be dealt with severely to send a message to the public at large that these types of interactions with law enforcement in the context of law enforcement officers doing their jobs is entirely unacceptable," Judge John Treadwell said Tuesday during a sentencing hearing.

Craig Sallee, 45, of Brandon, could serve up to five years if he violates the conditions of his 10-year probation sentence. He was charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault on an officer, one felony count of eluding law enforcement and negligent operation, one felony count of attempting to disarm an officer, and misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and reckless or gross negligence. He was ordered to do 200 hours of community service.

Vermont State Police Trooper Anthony Frissora stopped Sallee for an expired registration in Londonderry at 1:35 a.m. Sept. 21, 2017 and found out his license had also expired, according to an affidavit. Frissora said he saw a glass pipe typically used to smoke crack or methamphetamine on the driver's side floor board.

Sallee moved his foot over the pipe to hide it from Frissora's view and denied having one when asked, according to the affidavit. Frissora said Sallee eventually moved his foot and acknowledged the pipe, explaining that one of his friends must have dropped it when he let them use his car, a Subaru Forester.

Sallee told police he had been with some friends in downtown Brattleboro earlier in the night and a friend borrowed his car. During a search, he admitted to having used cocaine earlier in the night and asked several times if the trooper could give him a break and let him go, according to the affidavit.

"After refusing his request, Sallee ran back to the driver's side of his vehicle and got in," Frissora wrote in the affidavit. "I repeatedly yelled commands at Sallee to stop and exit the vehicle. He did not comply. He attempted to start the vehicle and put it in drive. With the driver side door open, I was able to shut the vehicle off."

Frissora said that while attempting to remove Sallee from the vehicle, he saw Sallee's "gaze fixate" on his holster and firearm. Sallee tried to disarm Frissora, who then began striking Sallee on the left side of his head in an attempt to stop him from grabbing the gun or running him over, according to the affidavit.

"Sallee struck me in the left side of my face causing a raised contusion and scratches to my cornea," wrote Frissora, whose injuries were documented in photographs in a court file. "Sallee was able to get the vehicle in drive and began moving forward with my body partially inside the vehicle. Sallee dragged me for approximately 30 feet before I was again able to place the vehicle in parking, bringing it to a stop."

Frissora said he yelled at Sallee to get out of the car "while engaging him with strikes" but Sallee was able to get the vehicle in drive and flee the scene. Frissora called dispatch, and Trooper Sean Reilly reported seeing the Subaru pass him on Route 100 with the headlights off, according to the affidavit.

Frissora said Sallee refused to stop as he and Reilly chased him with their emergency blue lights and sirens on. Sallee reached speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour in a 50-mph zone and traveled in the opposite lane of travel for an extended period of time, according to the affidavit.

Frissora said Sallee rolled his vehicle over at a tight corner by Johnson Hill Road in Weston then ran into a wooded area nearby. Sallee obeyed the two troopers after they had drawn their firearms and ordered him out of the woods, according to the affidavit. He refused to provide a sample of his blood for an alcohol and drug test.

Larry Sallee told the court his son had been "clean cut" and into sports as a young man but then someone at a job turned him on to crack cocaine.

"That did some bad things to Craig," said Larry, recalling a time when his son had been clean then relapsed while living in his home in Maryland before moving to Vermont. "Actually since he's come up here, after this incident, we've seen a big change in him. Craig has started talking with us again."

Larry said his son had temporarily left his girlfriend and dog to participate in drug treatment via Phoenix House programming, and an employer had taken him back.

"I believe strongly that any incarceration of Craig at this point would be counterproductive to the strides he's made up to this point," Larry said. "He's made some bad decisions. I think he's well aware of that."

Because of his own background in law enforcement and the military, Larry said he found it "extremely hard to believe" his son displayed behaviors detailed in the affidavit.

Niccole Blodgett said she met Sallee, her boyfriend, in 2015 after he sold her a Malibu Chevy as an employee at an auto dealership in Rutland. She said her daughter noticed something different about Sallee just prior to his arrest.

"She thought he was doing cocaine," Blodgett said. "She has an ex-boyfriend who was using. She had seen her fair share."

Blodgett said Sallee would go missing for days and money began disappearing. But she noted a change in him since the arrest.

"He's not home, home, so it's kind of different, but he's happier," Blodgett said. "He's not really happy either. He's just trying to be better."

Blodgett said Sallee was doing "very well" addressing his addiction. She reported that drug tests were clean as she had seen the paperwork.

"I love him," Blodgett told the court. "Don't send him to jail."

Blodgett's daughter, Victoria Hollenbeck, said she had never seen her mother happier than when she started dating Sallee, and Sallee seemed to be happy and doing well in sobriety. Sallee's sponsor in a recovery program also said Sallee was on the right path.

Sallee "is lucky," Deputy State's Attorney Steven Brown said. "This defendant has a loving father who cares deeply about him. He has a partner and a step family that really seem to love and support him. And he's got a sponsor who seems to be 100 percent behind him."

That, Brown said, is "not something we get to see in this courtroom on a daily basis." But, he added, it is important to "send a strong message" that dangerous conduct of this kind must be deterred.

"It is remarkable that no one was seriously injured in this case," Brown said before asking the court to sentence Sallee to three to eight years in prison.

Sallee's attorney William W. Cobb of St. Johnsbury said his client gave up a comfortable life for residential substance abuse programming. Cobb said people working closely with Sallee noted he is doing more than just the "token gestures, that he's showing up."

It was a breath of fresh air to see a turnaround like Sallee's, Frissora told the court, but "he could have killed himself or others and we can't forget that fact."

The judge said Sallee was to be commended, "however, it is deeply unfortunate that the defendant has only found his sobriety through such serious criminal conduct as was evidenced here."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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