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Family: Meth consumed Fayette attempted homicide suspect

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jessica Phillips, 28, of West Virginia, is led into Fayette County Prison after being arraigned at Fayette County Booking Center in Uniontown after she was charged in connection with fleeing police and holding up in a home in North Union Township on Friday, September 27, 2013.
Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Jessica Phillips, 28, of West Virginia, is led into Fayette County Prison after being arraigned at Fayette County Booking Center in Uniontown after she was charged in connection with fleeing police and holding up in a home in North Union Township on Friday, September 27, 2013.

A West Virginia woman accused of attempted homicide in a police chase that ended with a lengthy standoff and a suicide was studying to become a drug rehabilitation counselor before she was consumed by a methamphetamine addiction, her parents and sister say.

“They got her hooked on those drugs,” said Margaret Phillips, the mother of suspect Jessica Lynn Phillips. “She tried to get away. It takes your soul.”

Phillips, 28, faces 26 charges, including aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, fleeing police, drug possession, criminal trespass and conspiracy, in connection with the Sept. 27 incident.

Police said Phillips and the late Donald Brown, 53, fled a secluded area along the Youghiogheny River in Dunbar Township when a ranger from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources found the pair with a suspected mobile methamphetamine lab.

The pair allegedly led troopers on a chase south into North Union— firing shots out of a rear sliding window on their pickup — before the truck crashed into a home on North Gallatin Avenue.

Police allege they broke into a nearby home on Center Avenue. Phillips surrendered within 15 minutes.

Troopers tried to reach Brown for about nine hours until they found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot at about 9 p.m.

Phillips' preliminary hearing on the charges was postponed on Wednesday at the request of Assistant District Attorney Michelle Kelley, who said she cannot prove the case should be held for court until the state police crime lab finishes analyzing suspected drug evidence recovered by troopers.

“I'm not inclined to proceed without those results because I don't have a prima facie case without the lab report,” Kelley said. “This started out as a meth lab ... (near) Connellsville. The discovery of the meth lab is why we believe they fled (and) shots were fired.”

Phillips' sister, Kimberly, said Jessica Phillips was six months away from receiving a college degree in drug rehabilitation counseling when she apparently began using methamphetamine.

Until then, Jessica had worked to pay her tuition and support herself and her two children, ages 9 and 5, her sister said.

“She got hooked up with the wrong people and the wrong drug,” her sister said, describing how Jessica met Brown in their hometown of Buckhannon. “Once she met him, she went away from the family.”

Margaret Phillips said her daughter tried to enter a drug-rehabilitation facility but was turned away because no beds would be available for several months.

Jessica Phillips was allowed to stay at a facility for just 72 hours before she was released, her mother said.

“She stayed sober for 60 days, and that was the last we heard from her,” Margaret Phillips said.

Methamphetamine and heroin addiction are “rampant” in West Virginia, the Phillips family said.

Jessica Phillips' father, James, said his daughter was never in serious trouble with the law until Sept. 27. He said the only information the family has about the Fayette County ordeal came from news reports.

James Phillips said he and his family made the 2 12 drive from Buckhannon for the hearing to learn more about the charges and to show Jessica they care about her.

“That's my daughter,” James Phillips said. “No matter how much I disagree with what she did, she's in my heart.”

District Judge Wendy Dennis denied a motion by defense attorney Mike Garofalo for a reduction in Phillips' $1 million bond, having heard from a state police official who testified Phillips has threatened to flee if released.

Cpl. Joseph Panepinto testified Phillips made the remarks during an Oct. 10 phone call that was recorded at the Fayette County Prison in Uniontown.

“She began a conversation with a female,” Panepinto testified. “She stated, ‘Don't bond me out. I can't stay clean, and I will run.' ”

Jessica Phillips declined to comment as three state troopers escorted her from the courtroom to a patrol car.

She was remanded to the Fayette County Prison pending the rescheduling of her hearing.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or

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