Man charged with hit-and-run, high-speed chase found unfit to stand trial

MARION COUNTY — A 58-year-old Nevada man charged in Marion County in connection with the hit-and-run of a pedestrian in Salem, as well as with a resultant high-speed chase across the county has been found unfit to stand trial.

Suspect's vehicle following hit-and-run, high-speed chase. (Credit: Mitchell Schultheis)
Suspect’s vehicle following hit-and-run, high-speed chase.
(Credit: Mitchell Schultheis)

Jeffrey Freeman Johnston is charged with Class 2 felony failure to report an accident with injury and Class 4 felony aggravated fleeing and eluding through more than two traffic control devices.

Johnston has also been issued a dozen traffic citations in connection with the October 20 incident that resulted in 63-year-old Ernie Whipple being airlifted to a St. Louis area hospital for treatment.

Johnston allegedly struck Whipple with a 2004 Mitsubishi Eclipse as Whipple was walking across South Broadway at Mitchell Street in Salem. Whipple has since been released from the hospital.

Johnston then allegedly took law enforcement on a wild high-speed chase across the county.

He has been held in the Marion County Jail with bail set at $250,000 since his arrest after a Centralia police sergeant eventually used a “pit maneuver,” causing the Johnston’s vehicle to crash down a steep embankment on Highway 161 on Centralia’s west side, before coming to rest in the field below.

Court records show that throughout his arraignment Johnston made no response or any acknowledgment of anything going on. Based on that and reported conduct by the state, Judge Mark Stedelin ordered a mental fitness evaluation of Johnston to be completed by Dr. Daniel Cuneo and Johnston was appointed a public defender.

Cuneo’s evaluation found Johnston to be unfit to stand trial and he was remanded Tuesday to the Department of Human Services for preparation of a treatment plan. The case is set for a December 15 status hearing regarding a treatment plan.