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Grafton Fugitive Shakes Bailsmen

After two months of searching for Jesse Champney, the bail bondsmen finally caught up with him on Monday night.

In the parking lot of the McDonald’s on Sykes Mountain Avenue, two bail agents surrounded a black Saturn Ion. Champney, a Grafton resident who has been on the lam since July over a probation violation, was sitting in the back seat. An unknown man sat in the driver’s seat.

A few minutes later, the driver would be in custody, the bail bondsmen would be nursing bruises, and Champney would once again be on the loose, after leaping from a car traveling more than 30 mph and escaping into the woods.

“The kid is unbelievable,” said private investigator Frank Abramovitz, whose company posted Champney’s bond.

In Windsor Superior Court yesterday, the alleged getaway driver, Reno Reali, 20, of Haverhill, pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanor charges, including reckless endangerment and simple assault, according to court records. He later told police that he did not realize Champney, 22, was a fugitive, and panicked when the bail bondsmen approached his car. He faces up to four years in prison on the charges, and was not required by Judge Karen Carroll to post bail.

Champney has been on the loose since July, when he was scheduled to appear in Grafton Superior Court on charges of violating his probation. He had been released on a $25,000 bail posted by Abramovitz and Doyle Investigations Group, a firm out of Manchester.

Champney was arrested on 2010 on charged of burglarizing several camps in Enfield, and according to Hillsborough, N.H., police, he was arrested on June 29 and charged with driving with a suspended license and drug possession after he was found causing a scene inside a local McDonald’s.

Investigators believe that Champney had been living most recently in Vershire, Abramovitz said.

Investigators from the firm found him at the McDonald’s in White River Junction around 5 p.m. Monday.

An affidavit filed by Hartford police officer Mark McComas gives the following account.

The bail agents, Simon Kendrick and Albert Fortin, surrounded the car. Fortin opened the door and grabbed hold of Champney sitting in the backseat. Reali shifted the car into drive and hit the gas. Fortin went careening to the ground and rolled 15 feet. Kendrick was nearly hit by Reali as he sped away. Fortin was not seriously injured.

Kendrick followed the vehicle for about two miles, into downtown White River Junction. While Reali drove at more than 30 mph, Champney dove out of the vehicle, scurried into the woods and vanished, Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brad Vail said in an interview.

Reali later told police that Champney told him to slow down so he could jump out of the car on Route 4, near the 25,000 Gifts Store.

Reali pulled over on Urban Bridge, off North Main Street. Kendrick said that Reali tried to ram his car, but eventually surrendered.

Reali’s attorney, Dan Stevens, declined to comment yesterday. However, in a statement, Reali said he did not know that Champney was a fugitive, and had picked him at the request of a mutual friend. Reali said he was unaware that the men who busted into his car were bail agents, and, thinking he was in danger, sped away.

“To start with I didn’t know Jesse was a fugitive or he wouldn’t have gotten into my car,” Reali later wrote in a police statement. “So when he entered the car I said, ‘What’s up?’ and asked him how he had been, simply small talk. That’s when two men entered my car’s back seat and attempted ripping him out of the car. Again, not knowing he was a fugitive, none of what was happening was making sense. From what I do know of Jesse, he wasn’t always the most honest kid. I assumed he owed them money. Jesse told me to drive and with all the commotion going on, I didn’t hear, see or notice the two men state they were officers. Otherwise I wouldn’t have drove away at all, especially not in any manner as I did.”

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com.

CLARIFICATION

This article has been amended for clarification. Haverhill resident Reno Reali told police he was unaware that Jesse Champney was considered a fugitive by authorities when he allegedly drove away from bail bondsmen trying to apprehend Champney. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point in one instance.