ST. GEORGE – A LaVerkin man accused of attempted kidnapping in March will see his case move forward after a judge ruled Monday there is enough evidence to head to trial.
Earl Brandon Chappell, 40, along with his attorney Michael Lastowski, appeared in 5th District Court before Judge Eric Ludlow for a preliminary hearing on a first-degree felony aggravated attempted kidnapping charge, stemming from a March incident that put a community on edge and many area schools on lock-out.
Chappell is accused of attempting to kidnap a 15-year-old girl at gunpoint near Hurricane High School the morning of March 4. Chappell was found at his home approximately 11 hours after the incident occurred and taken into custody without incident.
Chappell’s court arraignment has been set for July 14.
Now, 16 years old, the teen involved in the incident was asked by Deputy Washington County Attorney Ryan Shaum to give her version of the March 4 incident.
She recounted how her father had dropped her off at Zion Food Mart, a gas station and convenience store near Hurricane High School just before 8 a.m. Then, while walking to the school, she said, “I was walking and I saw a shadow behind me.”
The girl began to speed up in her walk and passed a car parked on the side of the street. While walking past the car, she heard someone behind her yell, “Hey,” and she stopped and turned to see a man behind her. The man was described as wearing a plaid jacket and a black beanie, and having facial hair.
She said the man then told her, “Hey, do me a favor and get in the car,” while also pulling out a gun.
“He pointed it at me,” the teen said.
She said the man was near the back of the car parked by the road, while she was near the front of it and out of reach. The girl said she began to look around for people to scream at and saw some people across the street.
Once she started screaming, she said the man put his gun down between his leg and the car. He then told her to “go ahead and run.”
Shaum asked the teen to if she recognized the man in the court room, and she pointed to Chappell.
The teen then said she ran toward the high school where she contacted the school secretary and other staff, including the principal. Hurricane High School’s Resource Officer Steve Johnson was also called to the scene to interview the teen and take a statement of what happened.
While questioning the girl, Shaum asked her if she remembered what the gun Chappell allegedly pulled on her looked like. She said it was a black semi-automatic pistol.
Lastowski also asked the teen about the gun, asking if she knew the difference between a semi-automatic and other types of guns, as well as if the gun was black only, or black and silver.
“I saw a big black handgun,” she said.
Lastowski said he wanted to establish which gun was allegedly used in the incident, as police had confiscated not only a black handgun from Chappell’s home during a search, but also a black and silver handgun and a rifle.
Firearms not related to the incident shouldn’t have been confiscated, and should be returned to Chappell’s wife, Lastowski said, though noting that would likely be a subject for another hearing.
Questions of how the teen recognized Chappell as the man who attempted to kidnap her were also asked by Lastowski.
While giving her account of the incident, the girl said, “I just remembered the plaid jacket, the beanie hat, and he had facial hair.”
The description allegedly matched surveillance footage of a man visiting the Zion Food Mart that morning.
Johnson obtained a still photo from the footage and showed it to the teen. Following a positive identification, the image was subsequently distributed to area schools, law enforcement and the media.
“Have you ever made a claim that turned out to be false?” Lastowski asked the teen, referring to possible complaints made against teachers or others.
“Never,” the teen replied.
Johnson was called to the stand next.
As the resource officer assigned to Hurricane High School, Johnson was the one who initially investigated the attempted kidnapping.
He said he took a statement from the teen, yet Lastowski noted that he had never seen the statement. Prosecutors also noted they had not received a copy of the statement.
After talking to the teen, Johnson went to the Zion Food Mart to see if any surveillance cameras there had caught the man on video. The clerk at the convenience store asked if the man involved had been wearing a beanie and plaid coat, to which Johnson replied yes.
The surveillance footage was obtained and Johnson took a statement from the clerk. He also showed the clerk a photo lineup of possible suspects. Lastowski asked if the teen had been given the photo line up to pick from, and Johnson said she hadn’t.
“She didn’t get a good look at his face,” Johnson said.
Lastowski also asked if the clerk’s statement has been issued to the state, Johnson said it may not have, and that it would be provided if it had not been already.
“Everything I know of should have been turned over,” Johnson said.
Ultimately, thanks to interviews with the people across the street who had seen the teen and the man, the car involved was identified as a white Volkswagen. Police later found the car occupied by a woman identified as Chappell’s wife. Police showed her a photo of the suspect and she positively identified him and told them he should be at his home in LaVerkin, Johnson said.
Around 11 hours after the attempted kidnapping, Johnson and other officers met Chappell at his home and took him into custody without incident. While doing so, Johnson said he found alleged drug paraphernalia on Chappell, resulting in a class B misdemeanor charge.
Though Chappell didn’t testify in the hearing, Johnson said Chappell told police he had blacked out and didn’t remember what happened.
“He doesn’t recall what he did at eight o’clock in the morning,” Johnson said.
Chappell told police he remembered getting off work and going to a friend’s home to drink whiskey and eventually waking up in his own bed shortly before being arrested, Johnson said.
The incident resulted in six schools in the Hurricane area being put on lock-out for at least two hours while police conducted their investigation and search for the suspect.
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