By Sean P. Ray
Herald Staff Writer
A man who led Titusville Police on three separate chases was sentenced to serve a maximum of six years in state prison on Thursday.
William F. Birchard Jr., 41, was sentenced before Crawford County Judge John F. Spataro for three separate charges of eluding police, as well as charges for driving without a license. Birchard was involved with chases on Jan. 28, March 12 and March 19, the first of which led to the resignation of a Titusville Police officer for improper use of a firearm.
Birchard was facing two felony 3 counts of fleeing or attempting to elude police officers, for which he was sentenced to one to three years imprisonment each, to be served consecutively. The felony charges stem from the Jan. 28 and March 19 chases.
For the March 12 chase, Birchard was charged with a misdemeanor 2 grade of fleeing or attempting to elude police. Spataro handed down a sentence of nine months to two years imprisonment, but the term will be served concurrently with the other prison sentences.
Each fleeing charge also carried a $300 fine. Birchard was also given a $200 fine each for two charges of driving without a license from the Jan. 28 and March 19 chases. Together, this equals $1,300 in fines.
The first chase involving Birchard took place at around 12:37 a.m. when police on patrol spotted a red/maroon Ford Escape SUV with an improperly illuminated license plate.
Police attempted to pull over the vehicle, but it did not stop, leading to a pursuit that went on multiple roads through town. Police said that, during the chase, Birchard ignored stop signs, turning signals and speed limits.
The pursuit eventually moved out of town, and police were able to stop the vehicle by getting in front of it in their cruise on Bog Hollow Road. One of the officers, who was never named by police or Titusville city officials, stepped out of the vehicle to approach the Escape.
During this time, Birchard reportedly initiated a rapid u-turn, coming close to hitting the officer. In response, the cop fired at the Escape, hitting it once though missing the driver. Birchard drove off while the pursuit was terminated.
While the officer who fired the shot was cleared of any legal wrongdoing through an investigation by Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz, an internal inquiry by Titusville Police found that the officer had violated department protocol and was given the option to either resign or be fired, taking the former choice.
Birchard was later arrested by Titusville police on Feb. 27, but was released on March 2 after posting bail of $40,000 through a professional bondsman.
The March 12 chase would begin at around 1:41 a.m., according to Titusville Police Chief Dustin LeGoullon, when police spotted Birchard getting into a vehicle and driving.
Knowing Birchard lacked a license based on information given to them by the Corry-based State Police, Titusville officers attempted to stop him in the area of Brook and Franklin streets, only for him to speed off once more, according to police. This chase went out on North Perry Street for 7 miles before it was called off due to safety concerns. Police said the pursuit involved travel on dirt roads, and Birchard reached speeds around and exceeding 75 miles per hour, causing a potential danger to other motorists or the officers themselves.
The final chase, taking place on March 19, began around 10 p.m. when Titusville Police were informed by the Crawford County Dispatch Center of a rolling domestic disturbance heading into town.
The dispatcher told police that a woman was being chased by her ex-boyfriend, identified as Birchard. He was reportedly pursuing her in a silver Buick, and police were to meet the woman at Main Street and follow her to the police department so she could file a report.
On the way to the meeting spot, police spotted a vehicle similar to the one Birchard was described as driving. Police followed the automobile, later finding it facing south in the parking lot of the Pizza Hut on Central Avenue.
Officers pulled up alongside the vehicle and turned on their side light, spotting Birchard behind the wheel. The man reportedly sped off out of the parking lot and headed west onto Central Avenue.
Once more, police pursued, the chase this time moving toward Pleasantville. Birchard reportedly drove at speeds of more than 85 miles per hour during the chase, and pursuit was terminated on state Route 36 heading toward Tionesta after a chase of 5 miles.
Birchard was finally arrested on March 26 when he was spotted in the driver’s seat of a vehicle at a parking lot in the city. Police approached the vehicle, but Birchard reportedly left out of the driver’s side and began fleeing on foot.
After an eight-minute pursuit, police succeeded in taking Birchard into custody. Drugs were found on Birchard’s person after the arrest, including hydromorphone hydrochloride pills. While he was initially charged for the substances, these charges were withdrawn throughout the course of court proceedings.
Birchard pleaded guilty to the fleeing police charges and the driving without a license charges in a plea hearing held Sept. 9 before Crawford County President Judge Anthony Vardaro. He was initially facing 47 charges across his four incidents, including two felony 1 counts of aggravated assault, but they were withdrawn during the case.
Birchard was given a combined 229 days credit on his imprisonment for time already served.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.