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Officer describes moments before shooting

Wailuku patrol officer Michael Meredith, testifying Monday in Wailuku District Court, describes being pinned against the wall by a stolen car in the McDonald’s drive-thru in Wailuku on March 6. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — After being pinned against a wall by a stolen car and hearing the engine continuing to rev in a McDonald’s drive-thru, a police officer testified that he fired one shot that flattened a rear tire before the car sped away.

“It was to stop the vehicle at all cost before he hit somebody else,” Wailuku patrol officer Michael Meredith said when asked why he took the shot.

Testifying Monday during a preliminary hearing in Wailuku District Court, both Meredith and fellow officer Alex Pagan identified Samson Hill as the driver who accelerated toward the officers when they approached the stolen car at about 3:25 p.m. March 6.

Hill, 28, of Nahiku is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail. He is charged with two counts each of first-degree attempted murder and first-degree terroristic threatening, as well as unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle.

Police went to the McDonald’s on Main Street in Wailuku after Brian Rothstein followed his stolen 2013 brown Hyundai Elantra to the restaurant the afternoon of March 6.

Samson Hill sits with his attorney, Matthew Padgett, during a preliminary hearing for Hill on Monday in Wailuku District Court. Hill is charged with two counts of first-degree attempted murder for driving a stolen car toward two police officers March 6 in the drive-thru of McDonald’s on Main Street in Wailuku. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

He said his daughter had been using the car when it was stolen the morning of March 5 while parked in the driveway of a residence on Kaluanui Road in the Upcountry area.

Rothstein testified that he first saw his stolen car on Lower Main Street, recognizing its front license plate as it turned left in front of him. He said he called 911 and followed the car through Wailuku before it eventually turned into the McDonald’s.

After talking with Rothstein and learning the stolen car was in the drive-thru lane, Meredith said that he parked his police car near the drive-thru exit. As he walked into the drive-thru from the exit, one car passed him to leave the drive-thru, Meredith said. When he turned the corner, Meredith said he saw the stolen Hyundai at the payment window with one vehicle behind it.

Meredith was walking back to his police car when Pagan arrived after leaving another call in Wailuku.

Both officers testified they had their guns drawn as they walked into the drive-thru to approach the stolen car from the front, with Meredith on the driver’s side and Pagan toward the passenger side.

Meredith said he yelled at the driver to “turn off the car, get out of the car,” as did Pagan.

Both officers said that the driver appeared to be surprised.

“The driver looked up at us with big wide eyes, like, ‘Oh, I’m in trouble’ and appeared to put the car in drive,” Pagan said. Meredith said he saw the driver “make a small movement” as if he was putting the car in gear.

“I remember hearing a loud noise, like the engine was cycling fast,” Meredith said. “We continued probably another step or two.”

Meredith said he was 3 to 4 feet away when the car “took a fast jump” toward the officers.

“I stepped to the driver’s side to get out of the way,” Meredith said. “I was trying to avoid getting hit by the car.”

He said he didn’t fire his gun at that point because there was a vehicle right behind the stolen car and he didn’t want to put others at risk.

Meredith said that he continued shouting for the driver to stop and to get out of the car.

As the car was passing him, Meredith said he remembered thinking about trying to grab the door handle.

Before he could touch the car, “I remember seeing the gap between my body and the vehicle close and getting pushed up against the wall of the drive-thru and my body turning,” Meredith said.

“The car jerked into me,” he said. “I was pinned in between the car and the wall. And as the car continued traveling forward, it was rolling my body up against the wall.

“Once I was able to turn my body back toward the vehicle, I remember yelling for him to turn off the car.”

Meredith said he was toward the rear driver’s side door and again asked the driver to stop the car.

“He again refused. I could still hear the engine revving.”

Meredith said he pointed his gun down toward the driver’s window but couldn’t clearly see the driver, in part because of glare.

“As he was passing, still recklessly leaving the drive-thru window, I fired one shot to the rear driver’s side tire in an attempt to get him to stop,” Meredith said. “It was my intent to shoot the tire.”

Meredith said he thought the shot went through the side of the car’s bumper to hit the tire.

“After shooting the rear left tire, did the defendant stop at that point?” Deputy Prosecutor Carson Tani asked.

“Absolutely not,” Meredith said.

Pagan said he had taken a side step to avoid getting hit by the car before he saw Meredith with his back pinned against the drive-thru wall. As the car accelerated from the payment window toward the pickup window, “I hear a shot,” Pagan said.

He said he saw that the rear driver’s side tire was flat as the car sped away.

The stolen car turned out of the drive-thru and sped left onto Main Street, Meredith said. He said school was out and there were children walking in the area, as well as traffic.

When defense attorney Matthew Padgett asked why Meredith had pointed his gun at the driver, the officer said: “The driver threatened my life with the vehicle, threatened my partner with the vehicle. And the way he was fleeing the scene, he placed the community at risk also.”

“You were in fear of your life?” Padgett asked.

“Absolutely,” Meredith replied.

“This is after the car passed?” Padgett asked.

“At the time, I didn’t know where my partner was,” Meredith said. “Last I saw he was directly to my left right in front of the vehicle.”

After leaving the McDonald’s, the stolen car turned onto Market Street, where it stopped and two women and a girl ran from the car, according to police.

That night, the car was found abandoned on Lepoko Place in Wailuku.

Police said Hill was identified as the driver and was arrested March 12 at his residence in the Nahiku area.

After the testimony Monday, Judge Blaine Kobayashi ruled there was sufficient evidence to support the charges. Hill is scheduled to be arraigned March 28 in 2nd Circuit Court.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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