ALEXANDRIA, Minn. (KMSP) - It started as a report of a house fire. It ended with a stolen police car reaching speeds of 126 mph, concluding with the deployment of stop sticks. Somewhere in the middle, police found a meth pipe, and the suspect was found trying to hide inside the ceiling tiles of her apartment.
At 6:41 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria Fire Department were dispatched to a report of a fire alarm and visible smoke on the 500 block of Broadway Street, which consists of apartments. Once inside, officers found a small fire burning on the living room floor, which was quickly put out with a fire extinguisher.
According to Alexandria police, it appeared no one was inside the apartment, but officers found 35-year-old Jennifer Hillard had entered through the ceiling tiles and was hiding inside the ceiling. Hillard fell through the ceiling tiles and into a laundry room. Police found a methamphetamine pipe and a lighter on Hillard, and took her into custody.
Stolen squad car
Hillard was handcuffed with her hands behind her back and put into the backseat of a marked squad car. According to Alexandria police, "officers were standing outside the squad monitoring Hillard for the majority of the time," but while police and firefighters were dealing with the scene, Hillard was able to free one of her hands from the handcuffs.
With no officers watching Hillard, she was able to squeeze through the back sliding window, slip into the driver's seat of the squad car and drive away. Alexandria police reviewed video footage from the squad car which shows the back sliding window was closed, but Hillard was able to slide it open, indicating it may not have been fully latched in the closed position.
At about 7:12 p.m., a Douglas County dispatcher put out a call that the stolen squad car was traveling east on County Road 82 near McKay Avenue. Hillard was driving at speeds up to 126 mph as she approached the city of Osakis. An officer from the Osakis Police Department intercepted the squad car and started a pursuit. A state trooper eventually deployed stop sticks, ending the chase on Beltline Road near Sauk Centre. There were no injuries or property damage reported, other than to the Alexandria squad car.
Hillard faces charges of theft of a motor vehicle, driving while impaired, and possession of a controlled substance.
Alexandria Police Department Chief Rick Wyffels said police officers likely followed protocols -- despite the stolen squad car.
"The protocol is this, for a locked squad car, if you're not occupying your squad car, it's to keep it locked and not accessible to the outside world," Chief Wyffels said, "the officer for the most part did everything right, other than I suppose technically didn't know that window wasn't clicked into place."
"Quite honestly, am I proud to be here? No. But some of the measures we're going to take in the future is we're going to see if there's a device or screen over the sliding window."
Chief Wyffels said the squad car's engine was running because the emergency lights were being used to block traffic, and to keep the various computers and electronics fully powered.
Chief Wyffels said he released all of the dash video in the interest of transparency.