On June 18, 2011, Timothy Herring led sheriff’s deputies and state troopers on a two-hour chase through woods and pastures in southwest Wise County.
The chase started in Parker County when officers there noticed a white van that had been reported stolen. The van drove into Wise County, and Herring bailed out of the vehicle and fled on foot in the Indian Springs area. He soon found the tractor in a pasture and turned it into his getaway vehicle.
It was the middle of an extreme heat wave in the middle of the afternoon. Temperatures climbed above 100 degrees as Herring plowed through pastures, woods and barbed-wire fences.
“My neighbor called me and told me Wise County sheriff’s deputies are looking for a guy on a stolen tractor rampaging through the countryside, and he might be headed my way,” said Guy Cumbie. “I have a wife and daughter at home, so I went down to intercept him.”
Armed with a handgun, Cumbie jumped on his Kawasaki Mule to head off Herring before he could get near his home.
“I heard the tractor first,” Cumbie said. “I pulled the Mule near and hollered at him to stop. He was wrapped up in a blanket. It looked like a teepee around him. All I could see was his face … He stopped. We were in an eye-lock with each other. We were assessing each other.
“Then he decided he wasn’t going to let me stop him. He raised up the load bucket and came toward me. It was apparent he was going to ram me with the tractor … I was much more afraid of being killed than injured. I was looking up at a loader bucket coming down on me.”
Meanwhile, Department of Public Safety State Trooper Adolfo Patterson had spotted the tractor rambling through the woods from his patrol car on County Road 3672. Patterson pulled over, jumped over a fence and began chasing the tractor down on foot through the briars and brambles.
“It was so dense and thick you couldn’t see through it,” Patterson said. “Rows of thorns, lots of trees. To be honest, I don’t know how I got through it.”
Patterson broke through a line in the brush at the moment the tractor was bearing down on Cumbie and his Mule.
“He came out and distracted the charge from me,” Cumbie said. “(Patterson) hollered at him, and the suspect redirected his charge to the trooper.”
“I looked at (Cumbie’s) face, and he looked scared to me,” Patterson said. “The tractor was coming right toward him. I thought, ‘He’s gonna run over him.’”
But when Herring saw the trooper, he changed his direction.
“Once he saw me everything shifted,” Patterson said. “For the first time I was able to see (Herring). He looked like the devil covered in a blanket. He was red-faced. Mean. He spotted me and raised the bucket and revved the engine all the way up. He was screaming the whole time.”
Wrapped tight in a large comforter in the intense heat, Herring screamed “(expletive deleted) you! Mother (expletive deleted)!” again and again as he charged the tractor toward the trooper, Patterson testified.
“I feared for my life at that time,” Patterson said. “I pulled my weapon. I realized I couldn’t go anywhere so I shot at a tire.”
A bullet in one tire of the four-wheel drive tractor didn’t even slow it down.
“I saw him reach to his right side,” Patterson said. “I thought he was going for a gun. There was something shiny there.”
So he fired twice more, this time at Herring.
“(Herring) took the tractor out of gear and bailed,” Cumbie said. “He landed face down in the dirt.”
“The first thing I thought was, ‘I shot somebody,’” Patterson said. “That’s the last thing I ever want to happen.”
Patterson’s shots missed Herring, but they were close enough to force him to finally give himself up. The silver flash Patterson saw turned out to be a coffee pot. And the blanket wrapped around Herring was a comforter that he had soaked in creek water in an attempt to keep himself cool.
“It took a long time to get this out of my mind,” Patterson told the jury. “I’ve been replaying over and over in my mind. It’s hard to deal with the fact that my life was in danger, and I almost shot someone.”
Defense attorney Paul Belew said Herring was possibly on multiple drugs and had gotten little sleep over several weeks.
“Adolfo Patterson is a hero,” Assistant District Attorney Jay Latham said. “He risked his own life to save Guy Cumbie. The only thing that stopped that tractor was Patterson discharging his weapon.”
When the trial started Tuesday morning, Herring was charged with attempted capital murder of a police officer, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for his charge at Cumbie and theft.
Herring plead guilty to theft. And after four hours of deliberating on Wednesday afternoon, a jury returned a verdict of guilty for the attempted capital murder and not guilty for the aggravated assault.
Defense attorney David Singleton got Cumbie to testify he could have used his Mule to get out of the way of the oncoming tractor.
And Friday, in the 271st District courtroom in Decatur, Herring went before Judge John Fostel for sentencing. He faced a sentence of five to 99 years, or life, for the attempted capital murder charge. He faced a sentence of 180 days to two years for stealing the tractor.
Belew asked the judge for probation. He said Herring has battled mental illness and suicidal thoughts.
“Due to his childhood and his early environment he never had a chance,” Belew said. “He started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes at age 6. He was doing inhalants by age 9. Give him community supervision.”
“What happens here today tells police officers of this county what an attempt on their life is worth,” said Assistant District Attorney Tim Cole. “Probation in this type of case would be a travesty, especially with his history. He’s been in and out of jail since he was a juvenile. And if it was the drugs, what’s to keep him from doing them again?”
Fostel gave Herring a two-year sentence for the theft and 20 years for the attempted capital murder.
“The fact of the matter is we do a poor job of dealing with mental illness,” Fostel said. “Not just here in this state but everywhere. A large percentage of people in this courtroom have underlying factors, mental illness being that underlying factor.
“But looking at his age, his history, there is a pattern here of accelerated criminal behavior. It is fortunate that no one was injured in this incident.”