Police: Dartmouth Hitchcock shuttle stolen, leading to chase in NH, Vt.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2022 9:42:10 PM
Modified: 6/10/2022 2:49:38 PM

LEBANON — A Chester, Vt., man faces criminal charges in two states after he allegedly bolted from the emergency ward at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, got into an unoccupied parking lot shuttle van and sped off, leading police on a cross-border chase that ended when he was apprehended in Springfield, Vt., an hour later.

Witnesses to the incident on Wednesday evening said they were stunned by the unsettling event.

Mitchell Horton, 34, was charged in Vermont with grossly negligent operation of a vehicle, eluding a police officer, operating a vehicle without owner’s consent and possession of stolen property, according to a news release from Weathersfield police.

He is being held on $50,000 bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., and is scheduled for arraignment in Windham Superior Court in Brattleboro on Friday.

In New Hampshire, Horton is being charged with theft by unauthorized taking and is scheduled to appear in the Grafton County Superior Court on June 23, according to Lebanon police.

Weathersfield police said there were three warrants out for Horton’s arrest before Wednesday’s incident.

Dartmouth Health spokesperson Audra Burns referred all questions to Lebanon police.

According to authorities, after Horton drove off, the shuttle bus was observed heading south on Interstate 91 “at a high rate of speed,” and the driver disregarded police commands to pull over.

The driver left the interstate at Exit 8 in Weathersfield and traveled west on Route 131 before turning south on Route 106 with police vehicles “in pursuit” until the shuttle bus “eventually came to an end behind a residence on French Meadow Road,” Weathersfield police said in a news release.

Horton fled on foot before being taken into custody on Bellows Road in Springfield, police said.

Witnesses described a frightening scene outside the hospital.

Brandy Tibbets, a graphic designer from Canaan, said she was sitting on the bench outside the emergency room entrance about 10 minutes before 7 p.m. Wednesday when she saw a man “running out of the emergency department in a black hoodie, blue shorts and blood all over him.”

The man was followed by a security officer, Tibbets said, “but she couldn’t keep up.”

The next thing she heard, Tibbets said, was someone yelling, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”

Then she saw the DHMC shuttle van speed away.

“By the time he got to the end of the road, he must have been going 50 mph,” Tibbets observed. “He floored it. You could hear it. He was redlining that transmission all the way up.”

Tibbets said she then saw a Lebanon police cruiser and DHMC security vehicle that were both parked near the ER entrance leave, with each headed in opposite directions around the hospital access road loop.

“With that kind of erratic driving, he could potentially have harmed innocent people,” Tibbets said, who recalled being worried about possibility of the shuttle van colliding with her husband’s car on his way to the hospital.

Preston Bacon watched the scene unfold from the hallway windows in the birthing pavilion a few floors above the ER entrance. Bacon was there visiting his partner, Liz Nye, who had given birth to their son four hours earlier.

Bacon said he noticed the DHMC shuttle bus, which transports hospital employees from the main facility building to the campus’ satellite parking lots, parked behind an Advance Transit bus.

Bacon said he heard what he thought sounded like an argument between the two shuttle bus drivers but looked out the window and saw the DHMC shuttle bus driver in a bright green shirt outside his vehicle “hollering to (the man inside the vehicle) to stop.” He saw the shuttle driver bang on the side of the van while yelling at the driver and then “step back” as the bus roared over the curb and “took off.”

“I mean, he was hauling,” Bacon said. “He wasn’t taking it easy. He was getting out of there.”

Burns did not respond to questions about the protocols for DHMC shuttle drivers while in possession of their vehicle.

The shuttle bus driver has been working for DHMC for only a couple months and drove for Advance Transit previously, according to his stepdaughter, Ariana Baumann, of Orford.

Baumann said she got a phone call around 7:30 p.m. from her stepfather, who told her, “ ‘Go get your mother. My bus just got stolen.’ ”

According to Baumann, “I flat-out asked him: ‘How did your bus get stolen?’ He said he stepped off the bus for not even a full minute, and the next thing he knows is this guy comes running around the corner, gets on the bus and drives off with it.”

“But the worst part of it was my stepdad’s wallet, phone and keys to the truck were all on the bus,” Baumann said. The items had yet to be returned, she said, because police were still investigating the incident.

Baumann, who lives with her mother and stepfather, described her family as “all pretty shaken up” by the incident.

“I don’t think any of us got a lot of sleep last night,” she said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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