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Man sentenced in carjacking case

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | May 28, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A man who held a car salesman at knifepoint during a carjacking before leading law enforcement on a high speed chase was sentenced in First District Court on Friday.

Phillip Wesley Powers, 44, appeared before First District Judge Lamont Berecz who handed down a sentence previously agreed to in a plea deal between the state prosecution and the defense.

Also known as a Rule 11 agreement, both sides agree on what a potential sentence should be. Under such agreements, the judge is bound to not alter the agreement, but has the option to throw it out and hand down an entirely different sentence. If the judge chooses to not follow the agreement, the defendant can recant their guilty plea.

Powers pleaded guilty to a count of grand theft in exchange for the plea agreement on March 29. The remaining four charges of robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, attempt to elude a police officer, and persistent violation were dropped in exchange.

On Aug. 21, Powers walked to Mike White Ford in Ponderay saying that he needed to buy a pickup truck. Powers picked out a white 2020 Ford F-150 costing over $50,000. Powers and the salesman then went on a test drive.Toward the end of the test drive, Powers pulled over in the southbound lane of U.S. 95, pulled out a 4-inch folding knife and, with an expletive, ordered the salesman out of the truck.

A high-speed chase ensued between Powers and law enforcement, sometimes reaching speeds over 100 mph and crossing into the oncoming lane of traffic.

The pursuit ended shortly after Powers ran over a stop stick in Clark Fork. A stop stick is a portable rod with hollowed out spikes that stick out of it. Law enforcement throw the devices in front of oncoming vehicles in an attempt to deflate the tires.

Powers got out of the pickup and tried to enter the closest residence, but the door was locked. A sheriff’s deputy was able to catch up to Powers and tackled him, according to court records. Motives for the robbery remained unknown until Friday’s sentencing.

“Can I be honest with you?” Powers asked Berecz. “The day I left in August last year, I came up to Idaho with the intent to get in trouble. I did it on purpose.”

Powers told the court he was struggling with substance use and his mental health and couldn’t get into a program in California or anywhere else.

“The only time he was able to get sober was through IDOC,” he said. “I know it might sound crazy to you, but I was trying to get into IDOC so that I could get a rider. The only time I’ve ever had substantial sobriety has been after retained jurisdiction,” Powers added. “It will probably sound really crazy to you, but that’s the God honest truth. My intent was to come to try to get into IDOC so I could get sober again.”

Berecz asked Powers if there was anything else he should consider in sentencing, to which Powers said one final remark.

“I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry. It wasn’t the smartest move of me. I take full responsibility for my actions,” Powers said.

After Powers spoke, Berecz handed down the sentence.

“It’s clear to me that you suffer from significant mental illness and you suffer from significant substance abuse. Put together, that’s a dangerous combination,” Berecz said. “You threatened a salesperson here with a knife. You took off in the vehicle and were pursued at high rates of speed. You’re telling me you did this in order to get yourself into custody to get into treatment — you picked a very dangerous way to do so. This could have had tragic consequences for the community.”

Berecz then handed down a 6- to 14-year sentence with the first year to be served in the court’s retained jurisdiction program. Powers was given 280 days credit and will have to pay a total of $2,015.37 in court costs, fees, fines, and restitution.

Berecz reminded Powers that there is no guarantee that he will place Powers on probation once the rider is complete. The judge further added that this rider is to give Powers an opportunity to address his substance abuse and mental health in order to achieve a sober path forward.

“This should give you the opportunity at sobriety and mental health treatment and a positive plan moving forward,” Berecz said.

Powers has eight previous cases in the Idaho court system for possession of a controlled substance, aggravated assault, possessing a weapon as an inmate, burglary, and grand theft.

There are resources available to those who wish to change their substance use habits. The free and confidential Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline can be reached anytime by calling 1-800-662-4357. The Health and Welfare Department can also be reached weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1-800-922-3406.

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