Four patrol cars from two police departments in the Tonawandas were damaged Sunday morning during the chase of a pickup carrying a woman suspected of stealing five cartons of cigarettes from a store counter.
The chase ended at 12:20 a.m. when the pickup rammed a patrol car blocking its path on the Twin City Memorial Highway near the Luskin Drive intersection in the City of Tonawanda.
"What he did -- he tried to make a U-turn, and in doing so he came almost to a stop," said Tonawanda Police Lt. James Litz. "A North Tonawanda police car positioned itself to block him, and he rammed it."
North Tonawanda police arrested Michael P. Schmigiel, 34, of 90 Cottage St., Buffalo, and Anne Marie Harris, 29, of 348 Delaware Ave., City of Tonawanda. Both were charged with petit larceny.
Schmigiel also was charged with possession of marijuana, driving while under the influence of drugs, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, driving with a revoked license, leaving the scene of an accident and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle
Cannot distribute vertically He also is accused of reckless driving, three counts of driving on the wrong side of the road, two counts of passing a red light and two of speeding.
Cannot distribute vertically They were held for arraignment this morning in North Tonawanda City
Court. The chase began after a theft was reported by the Ultra Fast Food Store at 1060 Niagara Falls Blvd. in the Town of Tonawanda.
"A woman came in and asked for five cartons of cigarettes," said Harvey Reiss, the store owner. "While the cashier was ringing them up, the girl grabbed the cigarettes off the counter and ran out of the store."
Janet Binga, the cashier, followed her outside and noted the license number, Reiss said, and she later identified the woman at the police station.
"They led the police all over the city," Reiss said. "The police said they were high on drugs. It looks like the drug problem is coming into the area."
Officer Edward Smolinski said North Tonawanda police first spotted the pickup traveling west on Wurlitzer Drive "at a high rate of speed." Officer Roger Zgolak gave chase down Nash Road, which later merges into the Twin City Memorial Highway.
"The second police car engaged the pickup truck after it went off the road where Nash Road turns into the arterial," Smolinski said. "He went off the road at the curve, struck a fence, hit the Little League scoreboard at Soucia Field, went through another fence and back onto the highway and was still going south."
In the second patrol car, Officer Richard Biro chased the pickup across a bridge into the City of Tonawanda, where it continued fleeing south on the Twin City Memorial Highway.
"The suspect vehicle sped through red lights at Fillmore and at Luskin Drive," Smolinski said. "A short distance past Luskin Drive, Officer Biro had overtaken the suspect vehicle and began braking in an attempt to show the vehicle down. The vehicle slid into the grass median."
At this point, an unmarked car from the Tonawanda Police Department, driven by Officer Dennis Berndt, joined the others in a fender-bending scramble to "box in" the pickup on the grass. But the pickup gave them the slip.
"The vehicle came back onto the northbound lane, and that's where he made the U-turn, just south of Luskin," Smolinski continued. "Then he started heading back toward North Tonawanda."
After sideswiping one police car, the truck traveled a short distance and struck a North Tonawanda police car driven by Officer William Schwegler. The head-on crash extensively damaged the patrol car.
When the chase was over, three North Tonawanda police cars and the Tonawanda police car had been damaged. No injuries were reported.
A breath test for alcohol intoxication proved negative, but police conducted a urine test and charged the Buffalo man with driving under the influence of cocaine.
Police said Schmigiel is wanted by state police in Clarence on a burglary charge. Tonawanda police said they also will file traffic charges against him.