By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: August 27, 2009
The Brattleboro man accused of wreaking havoc on Keene roads last week will undergo a mental competency evaluation before his case moves forward in court.
The evidence hearing scheduled Wednesday at Keene District Court for Peter J. Simon was postponed until a psychiatrist from the N.H. State Hospital in Concord evaluates Simon and determines whether he is competent.
Public defender Matt Hill, who represents Simon, 39, requested the evaluation. He did not return a message seeking comment.
Simon was working at C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. in Brattleboro as a grocery selector for the last six or seven months while living in hotels in Brattleboro, according to a friend of Simon who was in court Wednesday.
The friend, who asked to remain anonymous, worked with Simon at C&S and the two often drove to work together. He described Simon as a quiet loner and said he believes Simon has no family or other close friends in the area.
He said he believes he was the last person to speak with Simon Friday morning before Simon allegedly led police on a high-speed chase through Keene and then crashed his pickup into a bus.
Simon called at about 7:30 a.m. He was crying and saying he was stressed during the 10-minute conversation, the friend said. Simon gave no indication that he was suicidal or taking illegal drugs, he said.
“I don’t think he was on anything other than what he was prescribed,” he said. He declined to say what types of prescription medications Simon was taking.
Before Simon began staying at hotels, he lived at the Phoenix House Brattleboro Center, a substance abuse treatment facility, and had numerous run-ins with the law, according to police. But he’d recently gotten his life back on track and bought a Dodge Ram pickup, the friend said.
He and Simon planned to meet Friday afternoon and work on the pickup, which Simon meticulously cared for. But the meeting never happened, and the next time the friend heard about Simon it was from the evening news.
“He didn’t give any indication (during the phone conversation) that it was this bad,” he said.
Police said they began chasing Simon’s black pickup after other drivers reported seeing it heading into oncoming traffic on Route 12. The pickup did doughnuts in the parking lot outside the N.H. State Police Troop C barracks in Keene during the chase before it jumped several curbs and entered the nearby Monadnock Marketplace shopping center, police said.
Trooper Kelly Wardner fired several shots at the pickup as it exited the shopping center. Several shots hit the driver’s side of the pickup, but not Simon, police said.
Witness Clay Bradley, 45, of Marlow said Wardner was not in danger and acted recklessly, while Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed said the shooting was justified because the trooper feared for her life and the lives of others.
The N.H. State Police Major Crimes Unit in Concord continues to investigate Wardner’s decision to open fire. She remains on active duty.
After the pickup exited the shopping center it made a left turn toward the Winchester Street-Route 101 roundabout and suddenly veered from the eastbound lane into the westbound lane of traffic, police said.
A horrific crash ensued. The pickup collided head-on with a 33-passenger Thomas Transportation bus carrying two people and its engine burst into flames.
The bus driver, Michael Baker, escaped the crash with minor injuries, but the passenger, R. Edward Heywood, suffered extensive head and facial injuries and had to be flown to a trauma center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.
Heywood, a former Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School principal who lives in Rindge, was in a medically induced coma after the crash because of brain swelling. He has emerged from the coma and the swelling has subsided, but he needs facial reconstruction surgery.
Heywood, 61, was recently hired as a driver for Thomas Transportation and was being driven to pick up his commercial driver’s license when the crash occurred.
A bloody Simon exited his burning pickup after the crash, attempted to carjack a passing vehicle and then ran to a nearby fast food restaurant, where he begged employees to kill him, according to police and witnesses.
Simon was shocked with a Taser twice before he was handcuffed. He screamed phrases such as “Brattleboro, I’m alive!” and “They’re gonna kill me” before he was loaded into an ambulance.
Simon was released from the hospital hours after the crash. The top of his head is lacerated and he had trouble walking in court.
He is charged with two counts of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon (the pickup) and one count each of resisting arrest and disobeying police.
Simon is being held at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland for lack of $100,000 bail.