By MILES DUMVILLE
A high-speed police chase that began near campus in the early morning on Feb. 5 ended in the arrest of a long-time University of Mary Washington staff member on multiple driving charges.
Wilma Harper Willard, one of two building secretaries for the Jepson Science Center, was charged with Class 1 misdemeanors of driving on a suspended license and reckless driving under pursuit, as well as eluding the police, a Class 6 felony that usually results in one to five years of jail time.
Police also issued four summonses—for improper display of license plates, registration/licensing offenses, no proof of insurance, and altered or forged license plates.
Willard, a long-standing employee at the university and a mother of two, is primarily responsible for organizing incoming and outgoing lab supplies for the professors in Jepson.
“She keeps things running,” said Werner Wieland, Biology chair and Jepson staff supervisor.
According to court records, Willard has two prior convictions for driving on a suspended license. On July 24, 2007, police found the same car involved in the high-speed chase—a red 1998 Pontiac Sunfire—in the Jepson parking lot with what appeared to be an altered license.
University of Mary Washington Police Officer Kauffman, the same officer involved in Tuesday’s chase, reported that Willard was unable to produce a license and registration at that time.
Kauffman said that the events leading up to the high-speed chase on Tuesday actually began on the previous day, Feb. 4, when he recognized the Pontiac on Powhatan Street in the College Heights area while on a routine patrol.
Tuesday morning, Kauffman said he noticed the car drive by on Powhatan while he sat in his vehicle reviewing paperwork in the Pizza Hut parking lot. He left the parking lot in pursuit of the Pontiac, which he said quickly accelerated to approximately 50 mph in a 25 mph zone.
After a high-speed chase stretching from Route 1 and Snowden Street to College Avenue and Thornton Street, the speeding vehicle pulled to a halt on Thornton Street by the Thomas Jefferson Motel and caddy cornered a residence at 1228 Thornton Street.
Kauffman said he left his vehicle, drew his weapon, and asked the driver to step out of the car. When she did he recognized her as Willard and ordered her to place her hands on the car.
Kauffman said he had to thumb through his contacts list on his cell phone to call in the arrest to the UMW police station because the radio system used by university officers was not working.
Kauffman searched Willard and placed her in the squad car. When backup arrived the officers searched Willard’s car and confiscated the license plate for evidence. The officers then took Willard to the police station for processing and then taken to the magistrate’s office where she was charged with multiple offenses.
Willard’s preliminary hearing date in circuit court is scheduled for the Feb. 28. Human Resources officials were unavailable to comment on the status of her employment with the University.