Theft of police trailer leads to violent chase

Police cruisers converged on Magnolia Avenue near Cherry Street when a pair of alleged thieves who allegedly led officers from three law enforcement agencies on a chase early Thursday were finally caught. Image from a video submitted by Rodney Minor.

What appears to have been a bold attempt to steal a trailer from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office ended in a violent police chase that ended in East Knoxville early Thursday morning.

Two people — identified as Lawrence Huffman Jr., 38, and Ashley Collins, 36 — were arrested and charged with a slew of crimes for their respective roles in the theft and subsequent pursuit, authorities said.

Huffman and Collins apparently planned to steal the trailer, valued at $3,000, and then drive it north to Collins’s home in Michigan, court records indicate. 

Exactly how they came up with the plan to steal the trailer or how the law enforcement agency learned of their plot wasn’t clear, but records show the trailer was under surveillance at an unspecified location by KCSO detectives just after midnight Thursday when the pair hooked it up to a Jeep Grand Cherokee and took off down Emory Road.

The KCSO detectives sprang their trap about 12:52 a.m. as the Jeep, which was driven by Huffman,  came to a stop at the intersection of Emory Road and Tazewell Pike, according to an arrest warrant filed by Detective Nathan Stachey.

Lawrence Huffman Jr.

Instead of stopping, however, Huffman accelerated and allegedly smashed the Jeep into two KCSO vehicles containing three officers, including Stachey.

Huffman then sped towards Grainger County as numerous officers joined the pursuit. The Jeep turned down Washington Pike and ended up going westbound on Rutledge Pike toward the Knoxville City limits, officials said.

“As the suspect continued fleeing officers, he called 911 and threatened officers, stating he had a gun and would kill any officer that stopped him,” a KCSO spokesperson said. 

Eventually cruisers from the Grainger County Sheriff’s Office and Knoxville Police Department joined the chase, which ended “after the vehicle became non-drivable” on Magnolia Avenue near Cherry Street in East Knoxville, the spokesperson said.

Huffman and Collins were taken into custody and booked at KCSO’s Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility on Maloneyville Road, records show.

It turned out that the Jeep, valued at approximately $19,000, was reported stolen from Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was also learned that Collins was a fugitive from Michigan, Detective Stachey said in the warrant.

“During the interview of the arrestee (Mr. Huffman) he admitted to cutting the lock on the trailer, taking the victim’s (KCSO) property that was under surveillance, and hitting two police vehicles to get away,” Stachey wrote. 

“Huffman stated that Collins had pointed the trailer out and helped him back the truck up to the trailer to take it so that they could load it up and return to Michigan,” the detective explained.

Huffman, who was apparently homeless, was charged with theft, motor vehicle theft, evading arrest, and three counts of aggravated assault.

Collins was charged with two counts of theft and one count of being a fugitive from justice. “The defendant did unlawfully, knowingly, and willingly flee from Michigan to Knoxville … to avoid prosecution for dangerous drugs,” Stachey wrote in the warrant. 

No court date for the two defendants was immediately available.

Ashley Collins

Published on May 13, 2022.