Philip Novak

A driver behaving suspiciously, a helpful pedestrian and three observant eyewitnesses combined to help Rice Lake police and the Barron County Sheriff’s Department track and eventually arrest a Milwaukee man following a car chase last Thursday evening, May 27, 2021, according to Barron County Circuit Court records.

The defendant, Philip R. Novak, 35, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing next Wednesday, June 9, on charges of attempting to flee or elude an officer, methamphetamine and marijuana possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a May 28 complaint said. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to more than seven and one-half years behind bars and/or fines of up to $21,500, according to court records.

The chase began when a Rice Lake officer, on patrol in his squad car, spotted someone driving past him in the downtown area shortly before 8 p.m. May 27.

The officer saw the driver “look at him and quickly reach toward the passenger seat.” While the officer followed, the driver kept rummaging around the passenger seat, then made three quick turns within the next two blocks, reaching speeds estimated at up to 10 mph over the 25-mph limit.

The officer drove his squad on a street paralleling the one the suspect was on, but briefly lost sight of the car after it went across a private parking lot near a Rice Lake potato factory. It was then the officer saw a woman walking on the street, and mouthing the words, “he went that way.” The pedestrian then pointed towards Main Street.

Meanwhile, dispatchers took a 911 call about a car going north on Main Street that had nearly struck another vehicle. A license number provided by the caller matched that of the plate seen by the city officer.

The officer eventually reached the area near the interchange at Knapp Street (Wisconsin Hwy. 48) and U.S. Hwy. 53, where he discovered the suspect vehicle heading west around one of the roundabouts at the interchange.

The officer activated his lights, but the suspect fled. The officer then activated his siren and chased the suspect through the Don Johnson Motors parking lot, but lost sight of the car again.

A few minutes later, the officer learned the suspect had crashed into a ditch near the intersection of Hwy. 48 and County Hwy. V, about three miles west of Rice Lake.

Two witnesses said they had seen a man in a black jacket, fleeing the crashed car and running into the woods south of the intersection.

A Barron County Sheriff’s deputy arrived with a K9 assistant. He announced his presence and told the hidden fugitive that he had a dog with him. At that point, a man wearing black (later identified as the defendant) came out of the wooded area and surrendered to officers.

After the suspect vehicle was towed to the police department impound lot, officers discovered two containers in which they found a substance that later tests indicated was crystal meth. Also found were used and clean syringes, and, in a bag on the front seat of the car, about 34 grams of marijuana.

Court records said the defendant made an initial appearance Friday, May 28, and was released on $2,500 signature bond pending further court action.