A man who led officers on a high-speed chase through the county last September was found guilty of evading arrest with a vehicle by a Wise County jury Wednesday.
For Chad Everett Ervin, 27, of Springtown, that was the bad news.
The good news is, the jury found he was not guilty of aggravated assault of a public official for an incident that happened near the end of the chase.
The trial began Tuesday afternoon with jury members watching video of the entire chase, which started with a routine traffic stop near the roadside park on U.S. 81/287 north of Decatur.
Nicolas Tavaglione, a passenger in the back seat of the truck driven by Ervin, testified that Ervin pulled off to the side of the road and asked him to switch places with him. Tavaglione unbuckled his seat belt to switch places when he noticed a state trooper with flashing lights behind them. He refused the request, and Ervin took off down the highway.
Tavaglione said he and two other passengers in the vehicle pleaded with Ervin to stop, but he refused to even acknowledge them.
“It was almost like a sound barrier between us,” Tavaglione said. “He was focused only on driving.”
The only information they were able to get out of Ervin during the wild ride was that he had warrants out for his arrest.
The chase continued down U.S. 81/287, then onto Farm Road 51 South to Texas 114. At that point, Ervin turned off and began driving along rural county roads in hopes of losing the pursuing officers. At one point, Tavaglione testified that during a sharp turn, his girlfriend, Kailee Horton, bumped her head. She was not seriously injured.
The chase eventually wound back around north of Paradise, and Ervin turned westbound on Texas 114 and headed toward Bridgeport. It was at this point that George Mundo, who at the time was a deputy for the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, was headed east to help with the pursuit.
Mundo testified that as he and Ervin neared each other, Ervin briefly swerved into Mundo’s lane of traffic.
“I thought he was going to hit me,” Mundo testified. “… I thought, ‘This is it. He’s going to hit my vehicle, and I’m going to die.’”
The jury was then shown dash-cam video shot from Mundo’s vehicle that showed the officer pulling over and eventually off the roadway as Ervin sped by. When questioned by defense lawyers, Mundo said that there was about a lane and a half between his vehicle and Ervin when they passed each other.
Not long after that, Ervin’s truck ran out of gas and came to a stop. The pursuing Department of Public Safety Trooper Woody Gosser then shot out the tires to disable the vehicle.
In his closing arguments, defense attorney David Singleton said the state had failed to prove that Ervin intentionally or knowingly swerved to threaten the officer. Singleton said Ervin had just made a turn and had overcorrected, and he was possibly distracted by the passengers yelling at him.
“This is not aggravated assault, this is bad driving,” Singleton said.
He added that if he had wanted to ram Mundo’s vehicle, he could have, but instead, Ervin straightened out and kept driving.
Assistant District Attorney Lindy Borchardt painted a different picture, one of Ervin driving aggressively for 30 minutes, topping speeds of 100 miles per hour, running vehicles off the road and taking aim at an officer.
“Look at the tape,” she told jurors. “There is no reasonable doubt. The defendant wanted to send (Mundo) a message.”
The jury began its deliberations around 10 a.m. Wednesday and came to a verdict at 2:30 p.m.
In finding Ervin guilty on the evading charge, a third degree felony, they also determined that the vehicle was used as a deadly weapon. That will be important in the punishment phase, District Attorney Greg Lowery explained, because that will mean Ervin will have to serve at least half of his sentence (a minimum of two years in prison) before he will become eligible for parole. Ervin could face up to 10 years in prison.
Prior to the trial, Ervin elected to have the judge set the sentence. That will be done at a hearing on May 27.
Ervin is not eligible for probation due to a previous felony conviction. In fact, Lowery said the warrant Ervin referred to during the chase was for a probation violation for a previous drug conviction in a different county.
The aggravated assault charge was a first degree felony, which would have carried a punishment range of 5 to 99 years or life.
“I respect the jury’s decision,” Lowery said. “It was a close case. Personally, yes, I believe he threatened the officer, but I can see how reasonable minds can differ about if there was a threat there.”
Ervin has remained in Wise County Jail since his arrest last September.
Paul Belew also served on Ervin’s defense team.