Doctors said they thought the suspected car thief was paralyzed.
Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies are questioning that diagnosis after they say he walked out of the hospital last month and remains at large.
Justin Wetrich, 30, allegedly rolled a stolen truck in Parkland May 28 while trying to flee law enforcement.
Fire crews used special equipment to remove him from the vehicle, and deputies took both Wetrich and his girlfriend to the hospital to be treated.
It’s common for deputies to drop suspects off at hospitals and pick them up after they’ve been treated, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said, except when they’re thought to be especially violent. Guarding all arrestees who need medical attention would drain law enforcement resources, he said.
When they arrived to check on Wetrich seven hours after leaving him at Tacoma General, the supposedly immobile suspect had taken off, Troyer said.
“He said he was paralyzed, doctors said they believed he was paralyzed,” Troyer said. “It’s a miracle, or he’s faking it.”
Deputies are assuming the latter, he said.
While there are many variables in assessing paralysis, Tacoma General has a standard series of neurological tests in such cases that includes heat, pressure, and pain, hospital spokeswoman Marce Edwards said.
However Wetrich was assessed, his injuries appeared serious enough to land him a bed in the Intensive Care Unit before he fled, Troyer said.
Now there’s a warrant out for his arrest, and he’s charged with attempting to elude a police vehicle, two counts of first-degree taking a motor vehicle without permission and two counts of unlawful possession of a stolen vehicle, among other charges.
According to court records, some of those counts are related to stolen vehicles found at Wetrich’s residence in Buckley, which is a stolen trailer, the charging papers show.
He has a previous conviction for eluding police.
Wetrich’s girlfriend, 20-year-old Savana McCarty, is in jail in King County on unrelated charges, Troyer said. In Pierce County, she faces charges of first-degree possession of stolen property and second-degree taking a motor vehicle without permission, related to the May 28 crash.
The Sheriff’s Department is asking the public to help find Wetrich by calling Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers at 253-591-5959 with any information as to his whereabouts. He’s described as white, 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds with blonde hair and hazel eyes. He has many tattoos, including one that covers his chest, and is known to hang around the areas of Bonney Lake, Prairie Ridge and South Prairie in Pierce County.
Tips are anonymous and can result in up to a $1,000 reward.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268