Suspect prompts two-state manhunt
WALPOLE, N.H. — A Vermont man facing charges in Massachusetts eluded capture Wednesday after he crashed his silver Mercedes into another vehicle at the intersection of Route 12 and South Street and ran off into a cornfield, eventually swimming across the Connecticut River to Vermont.
The crash set off a massive manhunt for Zachariah McAllister, 28, of Westminster, with area schools — in Walpole, N.H. and neighboring Westminster — put on alert status, and the entire Walpole downtown village area put on a lockdown that was only lifted after several tense hours. But after hours of searching vast cornfields and empty houses, with a Vermont State Police helicopter hovering overhead constantly, police called off the search for McAllister.
Vermont State Police said McAllister is facing charges in Vermont and Berkshire County, Mass.
A year ago McAllister faced aggravated assault charges in Vermont for beating his sister's boyfriend with a flashlight.
The search for McAllister drew dozens of police — many carrying assault-type weapons and wearing bulletproof vests, others in shorts and t-shirts. They came from as far away as Keene, N.H., and Weathersfield, Vt., as well as communities nearby such as Bellows Falls and Alstead, N.H.
Police cruisers made countless trips up and down Route 5 in Westminster searching for McAllister, who has a lengthy criminal record which includes five felonies. The search concentrated on an area along Route 5 in Westminster, and police searched two rundown houses next to the Holton Farm.
One Westminster resident, Frances Walsh, said she saw a man, soaking wet and in red shorts or swimsuit, walk on the lawn between her house and her neighbor's, heading toward the Holton Farm, a large vegetable farm.
For hours, a state police helicopter hovered over the area of the Holton Farm making tight circles, obviously searching the acres and acres of cornfields, looking for a glimpse of McAllister.
Walsh said the neighbors had been warned by police to stay in their homes, and she said she looked out the window and saw a young man carrying what appeared to be a white shirt in his hand. But she said he was wearing red shorts or swimming trunks.
Other neighbors said McAllister came to their door, asking to use their phone or to come inside, but was rejected.
Kathy Traugott, who also lives on Route 5, said the man came to her door and asked to come in, saying his grandfather used to live there. She said she refused. She described McAllister as "shaky" and wet. "He looked like he had just swum across the river," she said.
Walpole, N.H. Police Chief Michael Paquette told reporters that the incident began in Brattleboro with a traffic stop, when McAllister took off at high speed and Brattleboro police issued an alert. A Walpole police officer saw the car on Route 12 and gave chase, and again McAllister reached speeds of up to 100 mph. He eventually collided with another vehicle on Route 12, at the intersection with South Street. He then fled on foot. The occupants of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital.
"We have our own charges in this community for the suspect," the chief said, saying Vermont would likely have additional charges.
Christopher Pratt, superintendent of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, said the Westminster Central Elementary School was placed on "stay in place" status, but not a lockdown. He said all school activities were kept inside and the doors locked. Students were released on time, he said, and were escorted from the school to either their buses or vehicles. He said for some students who lived along Route 5, the bus didn't drop them off, but parents were called and asked to pick up their children because of the manhunt. He said Windsor County Sheriff Mark Anderson responded to the school, and was "just great" explaining the situation to the students and staff and gave a safety presentation.
Pratt said that Bellows Falls Union High School, which is in Westminster but a couple of miles away, was not put on an alert status. "BFUHS was not affected," he said, noting that his office was listening to the police scanner for updates.
Police officers were everywhere in Westminster and Walpole: parked near the railroad tracks, at the post office, at area farms, and at the Westminster-Walpole bridge.
Vermont State Police said that anyone with credible information about McAllister's whereabouts are urged to call them at the Westminster barracks, 802 722-4600.
Photographer Kristopher Radder contributed to this report. Contact Susan Smallheer at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802 254-2311.
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