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Possible meth lab trailer leads wild chase

State troopers investigate one of the damaged Island County Sheriff’s patrol cars that was involved in bringing to an end the slow-speed chase of the pickup truck in the background that was pulling a trailer. The chase went north from Oak Harbor over the Deception Pass Bridge and was concluded on a rural road in Skagit County. - Jessie Stensland
State troopers investigate one of the damaged Island County Sheriff’s patrol cars that was involved in bringing to an end the slow-speed chase of the pickup truck in the background that was pulling a trailer. The chase went north from Oak Harbor over the Deception Pass Bridge and was concluded on a rural road in Skagit County.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland

At least four police cars were damaged and two law enforcement officers injured in a slow-speed chase from Oak Harbor to Skagit County that started as a routine traffic stop Friday afternoon.

An Oak Harbor police officer tried to stop an older Ford Bronco pulling a Nomad trailer for expired tabs and a broken brake light at the intersection of Oak Harbor Road and NE Seventh Avenue.

The driver, later identified as 37-year-old Oak Harbor resident Anthony Panarello, pulled into the Office Max parking lot, but for an unknown reason, took off and didn’t stop until he was forced off the road 20 miles later, according to police accounts.

“It was funny seeing this. It was like a cop show,” said 19-year-old Tim Johnson.

Johnson and his three friends followed the chase from Oak Harbor to Skagit County. They said they knew the way by following hubs caps, clumps of dirt and wrecked cop cars.

“He went off the road and hit stuff about four or five times,” said 21-year-old Steve Burrows.

In fact, Burrows said his minivan was almost hit.

Although the chase probably didn’t exceed the speed limit, it was a wild and dangerous ride. Panarello struck two Oak Harbor police cars and two Island County Sheriff cars. Capt. Rick Wallace said a police officer got in front of the Bronco in Oak Harbor and his car was rear-ended. The officer was sent to the hospital for a minor neck injury and headache.

Just north of Oak Harbor, Panarello went off the road and turned around heading southbound, then went off the road again and headed back north. Wallace said Panarello kept swinging the vehicle into the oncoming lane, apparently to stop the police from getting in front of him.

Detective. Sgt. Mike Beech with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said Panarello motioned to Deputy Rob Hardcastle that his brakes were out. Hardcastle managed to get in front of the truck to try to to slow it, but Panarello accelerated and rammed the deputy.

Near Deception Pass bridge, the truck forced Deputy Lane Campbell’s car off the side of the road. Jan Smith, spokeswoman for Island County Sheriff’s Office, said Panarello struck Campbell's car four separate times. The deputy sustained neck and back injuries. Somewhere along the way, Panarello also slammed into another Oak Harbor police car.

Beech said the truck also hit a couple of other cars, but he didn’t have any details.

The chase finally ended on Gibraltar Road in Skagit County, right in front of Fidalgo Elementary School. Hardcastle was worried that children were at risk from the chase, so he drove in front of the truck again and forced it to stop, with the help of a Skagit County deputy.

A teacher said preschoolers who were still present were sent back into the school, which was locked down.

Trooper Brandon Tobol, who was involved in the chase, said Panarello got out of the car and ran away. Deputies chased him down and subdued him with a Taser gun about 300 yards from the scene.

Beech said Panarello was arrested on suspicion of multiple counts of vehicular assault, reckless driving, felony eluding, possession of a stolen firearm and driving while license suspended. Deputy Ed Wallace said he found a handgun, dozens of hypodermic needles and a case with suspected methamphetamine residue inside the truck.

Panarello’s dog, which was in the truck, wasn’t injured.

According to Smith, deputies have been involved in three “armed barricaded situations” with Panarello in the past. She said investigators believe his trailer was used in the production of methamphetamines.

“This had been a time bomb,” Smith said, “waiting to go off.”

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