Plea deal in Turlock driving rampage

A parolee who was high on methamphetamine and afraid of imaginary assassins when he commandeered two vehicles and crashed into eight others near Turlock High School pleaded no contest to 13 felonies Thursday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Kyle Gene Purdy faces up to 19 years, eight months in prison, but it is far less than the two life sentences he could have received had he been convicted at trial.

The authorities said Purdy, 41, rammed a mother who was driving with two small children, sideswiped another car, stole a truck from a man who stopped to help, struck four vehicles as he fled and smashed into two police cars during a 12-minute driving rampage that began at 6:46 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2004.

Defense attorney Larry T. Cole said authorities left two important details out of their synopsis -- Purdy's long history of mental illness and the fact that the California Highway Patrol dropped Purdy off at the Stanislaus Behavioral Health Center shortly before the incident.

Purdy could have been detained for 72 hours if he was a danger to himself or others, as the police suspected. He was released instead, because a social worker concluded that Purdy was high on methamphetamine.

"Meth or no meth, he thought he was under attack," Cole said.

Purdy, who has been to prison four times for drug and sex offenses, had been on parole for only five days when CHP officers spotted him wandering on Geer Road. He was behaving erratic-ally, so they took him to the county's mental health clinic in Modesto for an evaluation, Cole said.

Purdy's girlfriend picked him up when the clinic released him about 45 minutes later. He was not seen by a psychologist or psychiatrist, Cole said.

As they returned to Turlock, Purdy argued with her and drove her car to the intersection of Johnson Road and Zinfandel Lane, where he rammed a woman who was driving with two small children, then hit a passing vehicle, police said.

A man driving a pickup stopped to help, believing the scene was some kind of accident. Purdy punched him several times and stole his truck, then headed east on Marshall Street, striking four parked and moving vehicles along the way, police said.

At Marshall Street and Quincy Road, Purdy turned the stolen truck around and struck a patrol car that was in pursuit. An of-ficer jumped out and fired three shots, hitting the truck but not Purdy, who struck another patrol car as he drove away, police said.

Purdy was arrested after the stolen truck broke down at Marshall Street and Minaret Avenue. He has been in custody, held in lieu of $1 million bail, since then. He told police he feared people were aiming a grenade launcher, a semiautomatic gun and other weapons at him.

The incident prompted a community meeting attended by about 40 people.

Sentencing set for Oct. 4

The district attorney's office charged Purdy with two counts of attempted murder of a police officer, five counts of attempted murder, three counts of hit-and-run driving, two counts of carjacking and attempting to evade police while driving recklessly.

Purdy pleaded no contest to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon on police offi- cers, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of carjacking, three counts of hit-and-run with injury and one count of felony evading arrest.

Judge Donald Shaver will determine how much time Purdy must serve when he is sentenced Oct. 4. If he commits another crime after being released, he could be sent back to prison for 25 years to life.

If the case had not been resolved, Purdy would have gone to trial next week. He would have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and jurors would have heard from psychologists who had differing views of Purdy's sanity at the time of the driving rampage. Cole said he will argue that Purdy's documented history of schizophrenia, along with his drug use, should be viewed as mitigating factors when he is sentenced.

He said Purdy wanted to disable the vehicles around him so they could not pursue him, but never intended to harm anyone. He noted that several motorists suffered minor injuries, but none were hospitalized.

"This is a guy who really desperately needs treatment and therapy," Cole said.

Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne said he negotiated a plea because Purdy has legitimate mental health issues.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor does not see Purdy's mental illness as a defense to his crimes, which put many people in danger. He said he will argue for the maximum punishment possible.

"Given all of the circumstances, this result is both reasonable and just," Mayne said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.