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Woman said armed man carjacked vehicle with her, three small children aboard

Twenty-one-year-old Jesse Lewis of Avondale at provincial court in Atlantic Place in St. John’s on Thursday morning.
Twenty-one-year-old Jesse Lewis of Avondale at provincial court in Atlantic Place in St. John’s on Thursday morning. - Joe Gibbons

‘I was not leaving my grandbabies’

Michelle Murray broke down in tears recalling the horrifying moment a strange man jumped aboard the van she was in with her grandkids and held a screwdriver to her face.

“I thought, this can’t be real. This can’t be real…” said Murray, adding that the man demanded they get out.

“He had a weapon. We didn’t know if he was going to turn that on either one of us at any time.

“But I was not leaving my grandbabies. There was nothing he could’ve done to me, I wasn’t leaving them. There was no way.”

Murray — who didn’t want her photo taken for this story — made the comment to reporters outside provincial court in St. John’s Thursday morning shortly after Jesse Lewis appeared before a judge.

Lewis, 21, is suspected of the carjacking, along with driving erratically and several other serious incidents, in what was a wild series of events that stretched across several kilometres.

It began in Avondale early Wednesday morning, when the RCMP received a report that a male driver in a stolen vehicle was speeding and had side-swiped a vehicle. The man later left a gas station after not paying, and sped to St. John’s, along with a male passenger, the RCMP stated in a news release.

Both the RNC and Holyrood RCMP attempted to find the suspect as he sped in a red Kia Sedona from Colliers to St. John’s, causing several accidents. According to the RCMP, the driver attempted to ram three RNC patrol cars and had a number of near-miss collisions with other vehicles in various parts of the city, and two confirmed collisions.

RNC officers spotted the vehicle several times throughout Wednesday morning around metro, but the man was driving too fast and evaded police several times.

At one point, the suspect rammed the Sedona into a marked RNC car near Columbus Drive and drove away, the RNC said. He is also suspected in a hit-and-run on Ropewalk Lane.

The Sedona was seen going through the intersection at Thorburn Road and O'Leary Avenue, causing a three-vehicle accident, but no injuries. It then continued up Thorburn Road near Austin Street, where it crashed into a utility pole — breaking it off and bringing down the wire.

The Sedona was then abandoned.

Witnessed told The Telegram that a male passenger got out of the vehicle and screamed, “Help me!” He claimed the driver would not let him out of the vehicle and that he got in it, with the suspect subsequently driving erratically, in Holyrood.

Police say the driver then ran to a nearby residence and carjacked a parked red Pontiac van with Murray and three children, all under the age of 3, including her two grandchildren, aboard.

Murray said her daughter and her friend were outside having a cigarette, while she waited in the van with the kids. She said two of the children were watching Paw Patrol on a DVD device, while the one-year-old was strapped into his car seat.

That’s when the man opened her passenger door, held up the screwdriver and yelled at her to get out, she said. He told her the police were after him.

Murray said the man reached across her to get the keys from the ignition and went around to the driver’s seat.

Murray refused to get out.

“I said … my grandbabies are here, I ain’t moving,” Murray told reporters.

Even as the women worked to desperately get the children out of the van, Murray said, the man was beginning to pull away.

“He didn’t stop. He kept moving as we were trying to get the kids out. The kids were still in the car,” she said. “My daughter was literally walking trying to unhook the baby’s car seat.”

When they all finally got out, Murray said, she managed to take a few photos of him with her phone before he took off. She posted the photos to her Facebook page.

Police say Lewis drove on the Trans-Canada Highway and headed to Colliers, where the RCMP caught up with and arrested him after deploying a spike belt.

Before he was arrested, however, the RCMP sent out a warning to residents in Colliers to remain in their homes and businesses and to not engage with the driver.

When she heard afterward about what happened, Murray couldn’t help but think about what could have happened.

“That could’ve been me and my grandkids in that van had he not let us get the kids out,” said Murray.

“I’m glad to see he’s remanded because he’s a danger to society. He’s a danger to himself. Obviously, it doesn’t matter who it was (in the van). There were three little babies in that van and he didn’t have one care about them.”

When Lewis entered the courtroom, the mother of one of the children, who was sittng with Murray and a handful of others — held up her middle finger to Lewis. Lewis then mouthed the words, ‘F--- you’ to her before duty counsel Tim O’Brien spoke up to stop the exchange.

“He knows we’re not letting this settle,” Murray said. “We’re not letting this go. This man traumatized the whole lot of us and my two-year-old grandson, who is still talking about. It’s just not right.”

As she spoke, Murray’s niece, Erin Boland, held her hand.

“I keep telling her she’s my hero,” Boland said. “She’s such a brave lady.”

Lewis faces 25 charges, including three counts each of dangerous driving and assault, along with charges of assault with a weapon, evading police, failing to stop at the scene of an accident, stealing a vehicle, stealing beer from convenience store in Conception Harbour and about a dozen counts of breaking a recognizance

Lawyers agreed to bring the case back to court Monday. Lewis was led back to the holding cells.

Lewis had been out of jail just more than two weeks when Wednesday’s incidents happened.

On Sept. 25 at Newfoundland Supreme Court, he was acquitted of several counts, including aggravated assault and weapons charges, which were laid after he shot a man who forced his way into his home in April 2017.

The judge convicted him on charges of driving while disqualified and breaching court orders after he fled the scene with his girlfriend and the two other males and was caught driving the getaway vehicle by surveillance video at a gas station. Police eventually stopped the car near the Whitbourne turnoff using a spike belt.
Lewis asked to be released from custody to await his sentencing hearing on those charges. The judge agreed.

Rosie.mullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyRosie

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