A Hot Springs teenager faces multiple felony charges after allegedly fleeing city police in a stolen vehicle early Tuesday morning and crashing it into a building, injuring his 14-year-old nephew in the process.
Noah Christopher Merritt, 18, who lists a Walnut Valley address, is charged with felony counts of theft by receiving more than $25,000, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, fleeing in a vehicle resulting in serious physical injury, punishable by up to 10 years, and first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor, punishable by up to six years.
Merritt was also charged with misdemeanor counts of reckless driving resulting in serious physical injury, operating a vehicle without a driver's license and failure to stop at a red light. Bond for Merritt was set at $11,000 and he was scheduled to appear today in Garland County District Court but was reportedly injured in the wreck. Merritt was transported to CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs along with his nephew.
Merritt was previously scheduled to appear Tuesday morning in Garland County Circuit Court for a disposition hearing on felony charges of aggravated robbery, punishable by up to life in prison, second-degree battery and fleeing, each punishable by up to six years, stemming from his arrest on May 8, 2017, for an incident that reportedly occurred May 2, 2017, when he was 17 years old. Merritt was charged as an adult in the earlier incident.
According to the probable cause affidavit for the charges stemming from the wreck, shortly after midnight Tuesday, Hot Springs police Officer Morgan Murray was northbound in the 800 block of Park Avenue when he saw a southbound black Dodge Challenger that swerved across the centerline before passing him.
He turned around and caught up to the vehicle in the 700 block of Central Avenue and a check of the license plate showed it had been reported stolen by a 40-year-old Hot Springs woman. The vehicle was valued at $30,000.
Murray activated his lights and attempted to make a traffic stop at the intersection of Central and West Grand, but the driver, later identified as Merritt, "squealed" his tires and sped away west on West Grand at around 70 mph.
At that point, Murray activated his siren and pursued the vehicle, noting it crossed the centerline several times and then ran a red light at the intersection of Grand and Ouachita. Moments later, the vehicle crashed into the side of the building at 600 W. Grand, where the Community Services Office is located.
Murray notes the vehicle caught fire immediately after crashing, with debris thrown 100 feet and scattered around the scene. The officer discovered Merritt's nephew was in the passenger seat and, due to the damage to the vehicle, both Merritt and his nephew were trapped inside.
First responders had to pull both of them out of the vehicle and they were transported by LifeNet to CHI. The affidavit notes the nephew suffered fractures to his left arm, a contusion to his right lung, abrasions to his forehead and swelling to his left eye. The affidavit didn't indicate the nature of the injuries to Merritt.
According to the affidavits on the robbery, battery and fleeing charges, on May 2, 2017, shortly after 4:30 p.m., police responded to the area of Wise and Vernel streets in reference to a barely conscious male, 14, who stated he had been robbed. He was transported to National Park Medical Center by LifeNet and later transferred to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock due to the severity of his injuries.
Hot Springs police Detective Jarrett Cantrell interviewed the victim after he was released from the hospital on May 3. The victim said a known suspect, Merritt, had texted him at around 4 p.m. May 2 asking him to come to his aunt's house off Spring Street. The victim drove his moped to the residence on Bethel Street and met with Merritt and another male.
The victim said Merritt told him to follow him to the back of the house so his aunt could let them inside. He said that once they had gotten to the back of the house, Merritt knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He said the three talked for a few minutes on the back porch, and at one point, Merritt bent over "like to tie his shoe." Merritt then suddenly began hitting the victim multiple times on the right side of his head and face.
The victim said when Merritt stopped hitting him, he saw a rock drop from his hand. The victim attempted to get up when he noticed Merritt and the other suspect had taken his wallet and phone and were attempting to drive away on his moped.
The victim said he tried to get up and chase after them when the other male ran at him and tackled him to the ground, punching him several times. Then both suspects fled the scene on the moped, allegedly throwing up gang signs as they left.
Five days later, on May 8, 2017, Hot Springs police Detective Kenny May was in pursuit of a moped and a green 1997 Nissan 200 northbound in the 4000 block of Central Avenue. The Nissan continued northbound, reaching estimated speeds of between 50 and 60 mph. The driver did not slow down, driving through several red lights, disregarding other vehicles and weaving in and out of traffic during the pursuit.
The driver turned the vehicle east onto Plateau Street, where it hit a concrete barrier with its undercarriage. The vehicle was disabled and slowed down to an eventual stop near the intersection of Plateau and Oak streets.
The driver, identified as Merritt, was taken into custody without incident and a computer check later showed the vehicle had been reported stolen in the city.
Merritt pleaded not guilty to the charges in circuit court on Sept. 11, 2017, and had remained in custody until Thursday when he was released on $25,000 bond.
Local on 03/14/2018
Print Headline: Pursuit ends with crash into building; driver faces multiple felony charges