The driver and two passengers in the car being pursued when N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Samuel Bullard of Ronda wrecked and died in May 2018 entered guilty pleas and received active prison time in Yadkin County Superior Court today.
Judge Julia Gullett sentenced Dakota Kape Whitt, 23, of Elkin, driver of the BMW sedan pursued in the chase, to between 149 and 200 months in prison after Whitt pleaded guilty to the felony offenses of second-degree murder, possession of methamphetamine, obstruction of justice and misdemeanor driving while license revoked.
Gullett also ordered that Whitt be on probation for 10 to 30 months upon his release from prison.
Michaela Harrison, 20, of Hamptonville, was sentenced to between 36 and 56 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to the felony offenses of obstruction of justice and aid and abet speeding to elude arrest causing death.
Gullett also gave Harrison a suspended/probationary sentence of 10 to 21 months, to be served at the end of the active prison time. In addition, her BMW Sedan was ordered forfeited.
Gullett sentenced Mona Lisa Mullins, 18, of State Road to eight to 19 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit common law robbery in an unrelated case. She ordered that Mullins be on probation nine to 29 months upon her release from prison after she pleaded guilty to the felony offenses of obstruction of justice and possession of methamphetamine filed in the chase case.
District Attorney Tom Horner said there are other defendants to be charged or who have been charged in the case and not yet tried. Horner said Whitt agreed to continue assisting law enforcement and testify truthfully against any co-defendant in the case if requested.
Christopher Charles Whitt, 45, of Mount Airy, was charged with accessory after the fact to second-degree murder on Feb. 8. He is Dakota Whitt’s father.
“While, by and through these pleas today, this ends the criminal prosecution for the Defendants Mona Mullins, Michaela Harrison and Dakota Whitt, no matter what the outcome in the courtroom today, nothing will ever make right the death of Trooper Samuel Bullard,” said Horner.
“Trooper Bullard’s life was needlessly cut short and we should all be reminded daily of his sacrifice as a law enforcement officer to protect us all. And as many citizens and law enforcement agencies have already done, I want to publicly extend my sympathy to the members of the Bullard family, particularly Suzanne Felts, and to his fiancée, Michelle Mathis, and thank them for their support and cooperation throughout this entire process. Without their support and cooperation, we could not have arrived at this resolution today.”
Horner also thanked the Highway Patrol and State Bureau of Investigation “for their tireless and outstanding efforts in the investigation and apprehension of all involved. The public owes these men and women a debt of gratitude for the service and sacrifice they and their families make every day.
Horner released the following narrative about events that resulted in the charges against Dakota Whitt, Harrison and Mullins.
Bullard and Trooper Patrick Ellis were conducting a license checking station at the intersection of Poplar Springs and Country Club roads in State Road on May 21 when the BMW, driven by Dakota Whitt, approached about 10:30 p.m. while on Country Club Road. Harrison, 19 at the time, was in the front passenger seat and Mullins, 17 at the time, was in a back seat.
Whitt’s driver’s license had been revoked and there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest in another jurisdiction. Whitt and Harrison both possessed methamphetamine while in the car and there also was drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. “As a result, the vehicle did not stop at the license checking station and a chase ensued,” said Horner. The investigation determined that all three had been involved in buying and using illegal various controlled substances throughout that day.
The chase initially was on several back roads in the State Road community, then U.S. 21 and finally I-77 South, going from Surry County into Yadkin County.
“Speed during the chase consistently exceeded 100 mph and at times involved extremely reckless driving by Dakota Whitt that affected other traffic in a heavily congested area of the interstate. At some point during the chase, based on the investigation, it was determined that Michaela Harrison threw at least some portion of the methamphetamine from the vehicle,” said Horner.
Ellis was driving the primary Highway Patrol car immediately behind Whitt, with Bullard closely following.
“As all three vehicles approached heavy traffic near the bridge in which Center Road crosses over I-77, Trooper Bullard made an evasive maneuver to avoid said traffic and struck the bridge embankment at the intersection of Center Road and I-77 in Yadkin County. Upon striking the bridge embankment, the patrol car was ultimately engulfed in flames causing Trooper Bullard’s death.,” Horner said.
“Due to concern for Trooper Bullard and because he had been able to determine the tag number of the black BMW, Trooper Ellis broke off pursuit prior to the intersection of U.S. 421 and I-77 to return to the area where he had lost communication with Trooper Bullard. Upon determining that Trooper Bullard had wrecked and been killed as a result of the pursuit of the black BMW being operated by Dakota Whitt, an all-points bulletin went out for the location of the vehicle.”
Troopers located Harrison and Mullins at the home of Dakota Whitt’s mother near Hamptonville on May 22. They also located the black BMW in a remote area near this residence.
Dakota Whitt was charged with second-degree murder, felony flee to elude causing death, driving while license revoked and two counts of felony obstruction of justice after he was arrested early on the morning of May 23.
Dakota Whitt contacted the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office about 3 a.m. May 23 and said he wished to turn himself in, said a sheriff’s office spokesman. Christopher Whitt brought his son to the parking lot of Roaring Gap Baptist Church in northeastern Wilkes so the son could turn himself in. Authorities said Dakota Whitt was arrested there without incident and his father was also arrested then by deputies on unrelated outstanding warrants.
Harrison and Mullins were arrested on June 29 and charged with one count of felony possession of meth and two counts of felony obstruction of justice apiece. Harrison was also charged with allowing an unlicensed individual to operate her vehicle, accessory after the fact to second-degree murder and aid and abet second-degree murder.
On Dec. 25, Mullins was also arrested again on a charge of conspiracy to commit common law robbery. This resulted from an offense that occurred after the chase involving Bullard.
Horner said Highway Patrol and State Bureau of Investigation personnel have been “relentless, thorough and diligent” in the investigation. “Countless interviews of multiple witnesses were done prior to and leading up to the arrest of numerous individuals involved in this matter.”
He said Harrison and Mullins agreed to be interviewed by SBI agents on May 23, and Mullins was interviewed on subsequent dates.
Horner said Dakota Whitt began cooperating with authorities in late January 2019 and allowed interviews with SBI agents on multiple occasions.
“Based on those interviews, additional information was provided by Whitt on other individuals involved in this incident that had by this time already been charged. He further provided information with regard to other individuals who either have recently been charged or will be when located.
“Further, Whitt offered to testify truthfully concerning his and others involvement in the events leading up to, during and after Trooper Bullard’s death.” Horner said that as a result, Brendan Edge, attorney for Mullins, Ben Porter, attorney for Harrison, and Darren Byers, attorney for Dakota Whitt, began discussing possible resolutions with the state.
Horner said that after those discussions, “the state has had open consultations primarily with Suzanne Felts (Trooper Bullard’s mother), James Felts (Trooper Bullard’s uncle), and Michelle Mathis (Trooper Bullard’s fiancée) about the resolution of the cases involving defendants Harrison and Whitt.”
He said discussed with all of the parties were facts and circumstances, pros and cons of taking any or all of the cases to trial, possible resulting sentences for each defendant, level of cooperation of each defendant and relative lack of criminal history of each defendant “that would ultimately be considered and govern the court in sentencing.”
Horner said this led to the pleas entered Monday as part of plea agreements.