ELMORE CO., AL (WSFA) - A wanted man behind the wheel of a stolen car admitted to using a mixture of drugs after leading authorities on a chase that spanned more than twenty miles and ended in a horrific, deadly wreck, sheriff's officials revealed.
It started just before 4 a.m. Wednesday when members of the Alexander City Police Department got involved in a high-speed pursuit of a black 2014 Ford Fusion. Officers ran the registration on the car and found that the tags had been switched. They soon learned it had been stolen in Tuscaloosa County.
Deputies in Elmore County were alerted as the driver sped along Highway 63 South exceeding speeds of 90 miles an hour.
Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin says the car crossed the county line at 92 mph and forced one of his deputies off the road as they picked up the pursuit.
They followed the out-of-control vehicle from Highway 63 South to Georgia Road to Colley Road in Wetumpka to Highway 14 when the driver turned east towards Tallassee.
According to Franklin, the car dodging other vehicles and several tractor trailers.
"He came in right there near the Kowaliga Road area near the bridge. We went on an approximately 21 mile trek with this guy, chasing him at speeds over 80, sometimes 90, 95 miles per hour," he said. "The guy was driving on the wrong side of the road in curves, over hills. There were several people whose lives he endangered. There were a couple of 18-wheelers involved too. They didn't wreck but he put them in danger also."
On Highway 14 East, the driver lost control and the car left the roadway near Linville Funeral Home. It hit a culvert, went airborne, and struck a tree, bursting into flames, six miles west of Tallassee in a resident's front yard.
Seconds later, two Elmore County deputies arrived on the scene and found the doors to the burning car locked. They smashed the windows on both sides and quickly pulled out the driver and passenger as flames continued to engulf the vehicle.
The passenger, Melissa New, 28, was pronounced dead at the scene from her injuries.
The driver, Wesley Phelps, 28, sustained serious injuries and was rushed to Baptist Medical Center South and then transferred to UAB Hospital for further treatment. UAB listed Phelps in critical condition Wednesday evening.
New and Phelps are from McCalla.
Phelps was released from Easterling Correctional Facility in May. Since then, parole violation warrants were issued for his arrest.
"He obviously did not want to go back to prison. He has an extensive criminal background history," Sheriff Franklin said. "If he is able and fortunate enough to survive his injuries he will have a litany of charges that will await him once he recovers."
At the scene of the crash, Phelps made comments to paramedics about alleged use of illegal narcotics.
"He actually confessed to some of the paramedics there on the scene that he had ingested heroin and taken part in cocaine," the sheriff said.
Franklin says he spoke to Phelps' mother, and she relayed that her son had visited her home in Vance over the weekend in the same car, which turned out to be stolen.
"He also admitted to her that he got back on meth and ice," Franklin added.
He will face charges in Alexander City and Elmore County. Once he recovers, arrest warrants will be served.
Officials said Phelps and New were acquaintances, and their mothers are close friends.
Franklin applauded his deputies for what they did at the scene and says the agency is looking at recognizing them for their bravery in the midst of a dangerous situation.
"They risked themselves to get out and extract both people from the vehicle and we're proud of them for their actions," the sheriff added. "It's a miracle there were no extensive injuries to anyone else or any other motorist, including our deputies, having someone to travel that far and much of that on the wrong side of the road."
State troopers said seat belts were not in use at the time of the deadly wreck.