Woman accused of hitting trooper turns herself in
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A woman accused of injuring an off-duty State Police trooper when she backed her car into him and fled in St. Albans turned herself in on Wednesday.
State Police arrested Jennifer Elaine Garretson, 35, and charged her with felony malicious wounding.
Sgt. Aaron Nichols remains on a ventilator in the neurological intensive care unit at CAMC General Hospital. He is responsive and can open his eyes, his younger brother, Jake Nichols, told reporters outside the hospital Wednesday.
Nichols received head injuries Monday while trying to apprehend an alleged shoplifter, later identified as Garretson, at a Goody's clothing store in St. Albans.
Nichols, wearing plain clothes, followed Garretson after she set off the store's security alarm, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.
Witnesses at the scene said Nichols identified himself as a trooper and ordered Garretson to stop in the parking lot. She got into her white Honda Accord and drove in reverse, according to the complaint.
She backed into Nichols and Nichols jumped atop the trunk to minimize impact, breaking the car's rear antenna, according to the complaint.
Witnesses said Garretson then drove recklessly in a circle until Nichols was thrown from the car, resulting in his blunt force trauma. Garretson fled before police and paramedics arrived, authorities said.
Troopers later found a car with a missing antenna that matched descriptions and was parked along Miracle Drive in St. Albans. Police researched the registration and found that the car belonged to Garretson.
They spoke with people in the neighborhood who said she'd been staying with her boyfriend nearby. Police spoke with her boyfriend, Glen Maxwell Paxton, who gave them her cellphone number, according to the complaint.
State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said State Police Sgt. S.E. Wolfe sent Garretson a text message because he is acquainted with her through her previous job.
Wolfe identified himself in the text and told Garretson to surrender to police. She replied and said she was at a friend's house in Charleston and needed one day to say goodbye to her two children first, according to the complaint.
Wolfe unsuccessfully tried to call Garretson and sent a follow-up message telling her to surrender "before things became worse," to which she responded, "K."
Police executed a search warrant at Paxton's house and found a pink sweatshirt, jeans, black boots and shoes allegedly taken from Goody's.
Garretson contacted police at about noon Wednesday and agreed to turn herself in at the State Police headquarters in South Charleston, Baylous said.
She is being held in South Central Regional Jail in lieu of a $150,000, or 10 percent cash, bail.
Jake Nichols wasn't surprised to learn that his brother, while off duty, got involved in trying to apprehend a suspect.
"It didn't matter where he was, he always had his eyes. He was always looking," Jake Nichols said. "He's always cared. He could never turn it off."
Nichols' family is relieved that Garretson is in custody and asked everyone to pray for her and her family, Jake Nichols said.
So far, doctors haven't told him anything specific about his brother's recovery, except that it will be slow. He thanked everyone who prayed and expressed concern.
"God has been very good in a tough situation and I just want to thank him for his mercy," he said.
Garretson is on parole for two fraud convictions in 2011, according to the state Division of Corrections. She was convicted of a felony charge in Putnam County for attempting to obtain drugs by fraud, and convicted of a felony forgery charge in Kanawha County.
If convicted of the malicious wounding charge, she faces two to 10 years in prison.
Staff writer Rusty Marks contributed. Reach Travis Crum at email@example.com or 304-348-5163.