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Suspect explains slow-speed chase

A 37-year-old homeless man who led police on a slow-speed chase from Oak Harbor to Skagit County Oct. 24 is facing up to 27 years behind bars.

The suspect, Anthony Panarello, has a rather unique defense for his run from police. In a telephone interview from jail, Panarello said he drove from police in his Bronco and travel trailer because he felt his life was in danger from the officers.

“I thought I saw a gun,” he said, “I thought my life was in danger, so I took off.”

The incident began when Oak Harbor Police officers attempted a traffic stop on Panarello near the Office Max store. He drove off and didn’t stop until he was forced off the road 15 miles later. Along the way, Panarello struck four law enforcement cars and injured two officers, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Panarello was charged in Island County Superior Court with two counts of assault in the second degree with a deadly weapon, attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, two counts of first-degree malicious mischief, two counts of malicious mischief in the second degree, possession of a stolen firearm, attempted manufacture of methamphetamine and driving while license suspended or revoked.

Panarello admitted that he’s a drug user and that he’s been living in his truck in the Oak Harbor area for some time after being evicted from his home. But he denies that he had anything to do with a makeshift meth lab that was found in the Nomad trailer. He said some homeless people were living in the trailer and he doesn’t know what they were up to.

Panarello also denies that he intentionally ran into the Oak Harbor police or Island County Sheriff’s vehicles. He claims the police were “overzealous” and endangered the public.

“They attempted to murder me five or six times,” he said. “They kept running their cars into the side of me. ... I was just running. I was eluding and they were attacking.”

According to a report written by Island County Det. Ed Wallace, Panarello “intentionally drove into the oncoming lane of travel trying to cause an accident” and nearly missed a number of civilian cars, including a couple of school buses.

The chase ended in front of a school on Gibralter Road in Skagit County. Deputy Rob Hardcastle pulled in front of the Bronco and a Skagit County deputy pulled along the other side, pinning the truck in and forcing Panarello to stop.

Panarello ran, Wallace wrote, but officers were able to subdue him with a Taser gun. Two cars with the Island County Sheriff’s Office suffered enough damage that they had to be taken out of service. Panarello, along with Deputies Hardcastle and Lane Campbell, were transported to the hospital for injuries.

Wallace wrote that he found a handgun in the truck and components for a meth lab in the trailer.

“During this incident, Panarello showed a total disregard for human life,” Wallace wrote. “He intentionally endangered not only the lives of the officers involved in the pursuit, but the lives of the motoring public and the children at the school.”

Panarello, however, argued that it was law enforcement that put the public in danger by chasing him. He said he’s had two “armed standoffs” with Island County deputies before, but he was never charged for those incidents. He said that means he was in the right and that he had a valid reason for being afraid of the police.

“It’s a life sentence for me...” he said. “My whole life is shot just because I thought I was going to be shot.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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