SONOMA COUNTY – Maybe if he had just quit while he was ahead, he would have gotten off lightly, especially in the wake of California’s new proposition 47 rules. He might have walked away with a simple misdemeanor, but perhaps because he was on probation, Michael Sean Phillips made a run for it and ended up in hot water.
It was Monday morning, November 10, and Phillips, 45, was away from his home in central Santa Rosa, a modest house on 8th Street. He had come north in his black Toyota sedan to the Fulton area, a more rural neighborhood where homes on large lots are nestled amid Sonoma’s famous vineyards. He was up to no good at a house on Woolsey Street.
According to Sgt. Cecile Focha of the Sonoma Sheriff’s Office, at 10:12 am, a woman at the house heard glass breaking in the back of her home, and called 911. She then encountered Phillips and yelled – or perhaps screamed – at him. He fled the house immediately, before responding deputies could arrive.
While one team responded to the house to interview the victim, other deputies spread out in the area to look for the black Toyota the woman at the home had seen Phillips drive away in. He was not spotted immediately, but after about half an hour, a deputy spotted the black car about a mile west of the scene, traveling north on Mark West Station Road. He initiated a traffic stop on the car, and had Phillips simply pulled over, he would have been likely charged with misdemeanor burglary, probation violation, and perhaps misdemeanor vandalism for the broken window. But instead, he hit the gas.
Now in a vehicle pursuit, other units joined in to try to stop him. California Highway Patrol and nearby Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale police units were all enlisted to help. Traveling through country roads and eventually across the Russian River, Phillips was passing vehicles, driving on the wrong side, and even encountered a construction site with a traffic control flagger, and bicyclists on the roads. The pursuing deputy laid off the pursuit out of concern for the safety of the cyclists and other motorists.
However, still in distant pursuit, the deputy was aided by a bystander who pointed towards a vineyard along Westside Road. The deputy followed and found Phillips’ car, which had just crashed into a Sonoma County Fire truck. The car was more damaged than the truck, but Phillips had already left. The Fireman was there, however, and pointed to where he had run.
The vineyard, however, was full of foliage and Phillips was not easy to spot. Additional responding units proceeded to set up a perimeter in the area, and a law enforcement K9 unit was deployed. The dog quickly discovered the fugitive’s direction of travel, and a deputy on the perimeter soon saw Phillips. Perhaps seeing the dog was after him as well, Phillips gave himself up without any further trouble.
Phillips was initially arrested for evading arrest with wanton disregard for safety, hit and run, probation violations, and possession of a controlled substance; bail was set at $30,000. The Sheriff’s property crimes detectives are still working the case and will determine additional charges related to the burglary that started the whole adventure. Anyone with any information to contribute should call the Tip Line at 707-565-2185.