Suspect in McMinn County ambulance theft charged with attempted murder

WATE 6 On Your Side staff - SWEETWATER (WATE) - Sweetwater Police Chief Eddie Byrum said he is thankful that a man is in custody after a bizarre theft.

Joshua D. Hackler, 29, was charged with kidnapping, attempted second degree murder, theft over $200,000, burglary of an automobile, fleeing to avoid arrest and shoplifting. Sweeetwater Police said Tennessee Highway Patrol also has warrants for Hackler's arrest. Sweetwater Police said Hackler had warrants in multiple states.

Sweetwater Chief of Police Eddie Byrum said officers were originally called to a shoplifting at Sweetwater Plaza on Highway 68 at around 4:12 p.m. Chief Byrum said officers arrested a woman, but Hackler ran away. He said Officer Susan Ward followed Hackler around Fresenius Medical Care, off of New Highway 68.

"He had had enough lead that when she came around the corner that he had already taken possession of an ambulance that was parked there that they had just had just gotten a patient out of. As she came around the corner, he struck her with the front of the ambulance, knocking her to the ground," said Chief Byrum.

"The suspect and I were eye to eye." said Officer Ward. "He centered the hood of the ambulance to run me down."

Her vest took most of the impact. She only got a few cuts on her legs, as well as her elbows.

"There was no fear involved." said Officer Ward. "I had not time to be afraid. I was just mad and determined that he was not going to get away."

As Hackler was driving away, he did not know that there was a technician, a worker in the back of the ambulance.

"I saw the EMT worker was still in the back of the ambulance. She was being thrown around," said Officer Ward.

Chief Byrum said Hackler drove the ambulance about three miles away to a farm on Cleveland Farm Road. He drove through a gate to get there.

"My son said it looked like the Dukes of Hazard Show. He came through the gate, hit a couple of bumps and jumped through the air," said Stacey Richesin, who lives right across from the gate. Her son saw the ambulance drive by.

Hackler then abandoned the ambulance. Officers were able to use the GPS in the ambulance to track his location and set up a perimeter around the farm. With the help of Monroe County Sheriff's Department, K-9s and officers tracked Hackler down and arrested him in a corn field.

Officer Ward believed Hackler was under the influence of drugs when he drove the ambulance. She said he took his own syringe to inject himself with more drugs before he abandoned the ambulance.

Chief Byrum said Officer Ward was taken to the hospital and is expected to be released Friday night. The technician that was in the back of the ambulance when it was stolen is also safe.

"The technician is fine, real nervous and upset of course," said Chief Byrum. "She handled that situation great. She was awesome. He didn't harm her in any way."

Chief Byrum said is just goes to show that in law enforcement, officers never know what the day will bring. He said he is thankful everyone is safe and the night turned out the way it did.

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