Man allegedly drives stolen cop car backward

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Oscar Alicea, the Nashua man charged with more than a dozen offenses stemming from his alleged attempt to steal a police cruiser on Sunday, talks with his attorney, Amanda Steenhuis, before the start of his bail hearing Monday.

NASHUA – Police often cite motor vehicle stops as one of the riskier parts of their jobs. But the stop Nashua Patrolman Mike Kekejian conducted around noon Sunday in a typically quiet Crown Hill neighborhood showed just how risky – and bizarre – a seemingly routine stop can become in the blink of an eye.

In this case, the risk came not from the driver of the car Kekejian stopped in the area of Marshall and Bowers streets, but from a young man on foot who Kekejian apparently didn’t notice until the man allegedly opened the marked cruiser’s door and jumped into the driver’s seat.

Kekejian, according to police reports and a prosecutor’s synopsis read in court Monday, ran to his cruiser and jumped on top of the man, later identified as Oscar Alicea, 24, of 19 Bridge St., Apt. A.

Alicea, police said, allegedly managed to drop the cruiser’s gearshift into reverse, beginning a wild and potentially deadly series of events. During this time, Kekejian struggled to subdue Alicea and take control of the runaway cruiser.

Once Kekejian succeeded in halting the cruiser and, after a brief struggle, taking Alicea into custody, the officer was on his way to Southern New Hampshire Health in Nashua for treatment of head injuries and what the prosecutor called “a serious bite wound” to his arm.

Alicea, meanwhile, was on his way with other officers to police headquarters for booking on a total of 14 charges, a mix of felonies and misdemeanors that range from theft of a vehicle and a firearm to assaulting an officer and resisting arrest and detention.

Alicea was jailed overnight, and on Monday pleaded not guilty to the charges and waived formal arraignment. At a subsequent bail hearing, Judge Charles Temple ordered Alicea held on preventive detention, having determined that if released from custody, Alicea would present a danger to himself and others, “given the facts and the circumstances of the complaints” and the admissions he allegedly made to police regarding his behavior.

In all, police charged Alicea with seven felonies and seven misdemeanors.

They include four counts of reckless conduct, and one count of robbery, Class B felonies; one count each, theft of a motor vehicle and theft of a firearm, Class A felonies; three counts of conduct after an accident, and one count each of simple assault on a police officer, resisting detention, resisting arrest, and obstructing government administration, all Class A misdemeanors; and one count of operating without a valid license, a Class B misdemeanor.

The firearm theft charge stems from the fact there was a rifle secured in the cruiser when Alicea allegedly stole the cruiser.

Assistant County Attorney Brett Harpster, the prosecutor at Alicea’s bail hearing, alleged that Alicea initially approached the cruiser to “smash out its windows with a crowbar,” but he allegedly decided to get in and try to take off.

With Alicea and Kekejian struggling in the driver’s seat, Harpster said the cruiser “did a complete U-turn” across Marshall Street, jumped a curb, struck a fence at 41 Marshall, crashed into a set of porch steps at another residence before heading toward Sullivan Park.

There, according to Harpster, the cruiser jumped another curb, struck a steel bench and continued on – heading straight toward a woman sitting on the grass in the park.

The woman “jumped up and ran,” Harpster said, adding that seconds later, the cruiser sped right over the spot where she was sitting.

Another woman, who Harpster said was walking her dog in the park, suddenly saw the cruiser heading toward her. “It was coming right at her … she picked up her dog and ran away from it,” he added, referring to the path the cruiser appeared to be taking.

“If she hadn’t run away, she would have been crushed,” Harpster said.

Some witnesses police interviewed recalled suddenly hearing a siren sounding, and when they looked in that direction, saw the cruiser – with the driver’s door open and a uniformed officer “partially in the cruiser with his feet hanging out the open door” – speeding backward, jumping curbs and striking a fence.

“Officer Kekejian put his life on the line to stop this defendant from (allegedly) stealing a cruiser and harming members of the community,” Harpster told the court, noting also that several Nashua police officers, including Deputy Chief Michael Carignan, attended the hearing in support of Kekejian.

“Several people could have been killed, or seriously injured yesterday,” Harpster added.

Also in attendance were Alicea’s girlfriend and members of her family, whom attorney Maddy Bullard, a public defender who represented Alicea with public defender Amanda Steenhuis, said were there on his behalf.

Bullard, a new addition to the local New Hampshire Public Defender office, asked for personal recognizance bail for Alicea, calling his alleged actions “an isolated event” and describing him as “responsible, hard-working young man” who “does not use any drugs or alcohol.”

Alicea recently moved to Nashua to be with his girlfriend, Bullard said, and has been “actively looking for work since he got here.”

She doesn’t see Alicea as a flight risk, and if he were released on bail, his girlfriend and her family would be willing to take him in.

Alicea’s history “indicates he is not a violent person,” Bullard continued. “I fully recognize these are serious charges, but there is no evidence he’s a danger” to the community, she added.

Temple imposed preventive detention, he told Alicea, after “considering the facts and circumstances of the complaints, and your admissions” to police.

Temple said the court would consider modifying Alicea’s bail only if he submits to a mental health evaluation and follows any recommendations by the evaluator.

“Something went drastically wrong with you yesterday,” Temple said, referring to Sunday’s incident.

Carignan said after the hearing that police “are obviously pleased with the result today,” referring to Temple’s decision to hold Alicea on preventive detention.

As for what Alicea’s motive may have been to allegedly plan to smash out the cruiser’s windows, then to jump into the cruiser, Carignan said he preferred “not to get into a motive at this time.”

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DeanS.