CLARK COUNTY, Ind. (WHAS11) – He's accused of stealing an ambulance from Clark Memorial Hospital and then leading police on a multi-county chase on Christmas Day. Now, a Clark County judge is ordering a mental health evaluation for Joseph Prest.
Prest, 28, made his first court appearance Wednesday morning. He’s charged with auto theft and resisting law enforcement. His lawyer, Larry Wilder, said Prest is a veteran who struggles with PTSD from his time in the Coast Guard.
"He's just a young man who served our country for eight years and during the course of that time, he's had some real problems that have come to the forefront,” Wilder said. "It's just really a difficult situation."
Wilder said Prest is from the Cincinnati area, but was staying with some friends in Southern Indiana. He said he went to Clark Memorial Hospital on Christmas Day for his PTSD.
"He had the ability to make a choice to leave, and he left and didn't have a way back to Henryville. At that point in his thought process, that vehicle was there with keys in it and running,” Wilder said.
Police records show Prest then led police on about a 15 mile chase from Jeffersonville to Borden, refusing to stop and speeding up to 70 miles an hour. Officers put out stop sticks but Prest stopped the ambulance on his own before they arrested him. The Washington County Indiana Sheriff's office posted this picture on social media saying the chase started in Clark County and ended near Voyles Road in Washington County. The ambulance had no damage and nobody got hurt, but both sides of the law are trying to figure out if Prest knew what he was doing and if he's in the right state of mind to go through the legal system.
"Where we're at now with Joe is we're just trying to figure out how to help him get himself back into a place where his thoughts are consistent and his thought process isn't one that results in you getting in an ambulance and driving away. We're in the process of having someone tell us whether at that moment in time, Joe actually had the capacity and ability to understand what it was he was doing. We will feel like the likelihood is going to be no, he didn't,” Wilder said. "What was going on in his mind at that time is the real question right now, and whether he is right now capable of understanding even what we're doing and how we're going forward to try to help him."
"With veterans, with some of them because of things they've experienced, they have a lot of problems with PTSD or issues that can contribute to crimes that they commit,” Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said.
Every case has its challenges. This one is no different, but both sides said they're committed to reaching a fair and just result.
"Anytime there's a veteran with a criminal charge, we try to be very sensitive to that without in essence giving preferential or special treatment persay to be sensitive to the issues that they may have and try to be responsive to that and make sure they get all of the treatment and rehabilitative services we have to offer them,” Mull said.
The judge's decision to order the mental health evaluation essentially delays the case for another 72 hours. The hope is that will give doctors time to determine whether or not Prest knew what he was doing and that decision will determine what happens next in his case.
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