Pontotoc trucker gets 21 years for I-81 chase through Maryland
by The Associated Press
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This June 2011 photo provided by the Washington County Sheriff's Office shows Thomas McNeel of Pontotoc, Miss. McNeel, 43, a Mississippi trucker who hit four motorists and a police cruiser during a drug-fueled chase on Interstate 81 near Hagerstown in December 2010, was sentenced Monday, Jan. 9, 2012 to 21 years in prison. (AP Photo/Washington County Sheriff's Office)
HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A Mississippi truck driver who caused four collisions and hit a police cruiser during a drug-fueled chase through Maryland on Interstate 81 was sentenced Monday to 21 years in prison after he thanked authorities for forcing him to stop.

Thomas L. McNeel, 43, of Pontotoc, Miss., apologized to his victims, including a 24-year-old woman who suffered a lingering back injury.

"I assure you it wouldn't have happened if I had used better judgment and not used drugs and stuff," McNeel told Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long.

McNeel was convicted in December of four counts of second-degree assault and seven other offenses for the Dec. 20, 2010, rampage. The judge ordered him to make restitution of more than $11,000 to two of the drivers whose vehicles were damaged along the 12-mile Maryland stretch of the four-lane highway.

The chase began in West Virginia and ended near Greencastle, Pa.

McNeel testified at his trial he had used methamphetamine and a synthetic drug known as "bath salts" that morning. He claimed he couldn't remember the chase.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael asked Long to sentence McNeel to the maximum of 40 years for deliberately aiming his 18-wheeler at four police cars during a chase at speeds as high as 80 mph.

"I suggest to you that it is, for a level of danger, exactly as dangerous as a firearm," Michael said.

Assistant Public Defender Carl Creeden said McNeel has been battling a methamphetamine problem for seven or eight years.

"He has always told me he didn't intend to hurt anybody," Creeden said.

He said McNeel had pleaded guilty to a related charge of methamphetamine possession in Pennsylvania in June. He is awaiting prosecution in West Virginia.

Creeden said McNeel was driving on a valid commercial license.

Michael said McNeel was driving for Bridgman Trucking LLC of Pontotoc. The prosecutor said he didn't know if the truck was carrying a load.
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