Ind. Man Accused of Ambulance Theft to Undergo Mental Evaluation
Dec. 27—JEFFERSONVILLE—A man accused of stealing an ambulance from Clark Memorial Hospital is undergoing a mental evaluation to determine his state of mind at the time of the incident.
Joseph Prest, 28, was ordered to have a 72-hour evaluation at Clark Memorial Hospital just before he was to have a hearing Wednesday on the alleged theft of an ambulance. He faces charges of auto theft, criminal recklessness with a motor vehicle and resisting law enforcement with a vehicle—all level 6 felonies.
Police responded Monday afternoon to a report of a stolen Yellow Ambulance from the hospital, according to court records. Police located the vehicle in Sellersburg and followed it as the driver led them on a 15-mile slow-speed chase until he surrendered in Washington County after police laid spike strips.
Prest's attorney, Larry Wilder, said the suspect, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, suffers from PTSD and took the vehicle while undergoing mental evaluation at the hospital. The ambulance had the keys in it and was running, Wilder said. Prest was allegedly trying to get a way back home.
"Adults that are not being committed with court orders can leave," Wilder said. "He had been there for a period of time and he had the ability to make a choice to leave and he left.
"He's not violent by any means, he's just a young man who served our country for eight years and, during that time, he's had some real problems coming to the forefront and we're just trying to figure out how to deal with them—this isn't the best system for that," the attorney added.
Wilder said the evaluation could lead to Prest being committed to a Veteran's Administration medical facility for further mental evaluation and treatment.
"He had some behaviors leading up to this that had caused his need to be at the hospital at that time," Wilder said. "He clearly got in that ambulance to drive someplace. What was going on in his mind at the time is the real question right now."
The results of the evaluation won't free Prest of criminal charges, but they can add layers of context to the case moving forward, Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said.
A competency evaluation seeks to determine the defendant's ability to understand the court proceedings and to stand trial; a notice of insanity seeks to determine if the defendant knew right from wrong at the time of the incident.
The evaluation ordered Wednesday is to examine the mental factors that may be responsible for Prest's actions.
"(Evaluations) are helpful for the parties to understand the mental condition of the defendant early on," Mull said. "But certainly the existence of PTSD or any other mental condition or mental disorder does not necessarily relieve someone of the legal consequences of their actions."