Man who led Lebanese police on 2023 chase pleads guilty

Man who led Lebanese police on 2023 chase pleads guilty

A 32-year-old Lebanon man who stole a car at gunpoint and led Lebanon City police officers on a lengthy chase that injured at least one other person has pleaded guilty to all charges ahead of his scheduled trial in August.

Before Lebanon County Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge John Tylwalk on Friday, July 5, Cesar Wilkins Romero-Colon pleaded guilty to multiple counts of robbery, aggravated assault on police, possession of a stolen firearm, possession of a firearm without a license and fleeing police. He was not sentenced at the hearing.

Lebanon County Prosecutor Pier Hess Graf said Romero-Colon’s acceptance of responsibility for his actions in the incident spares the victims involved from having to talk about the worst days of their lives.

“I think accepting responsibility and pleading guilty was the right decision, and frankly, it’s the only decision this man has made since the day of the car chases that we can support,” she said.

Romero-Colon also pleaded guilty July 5 to drug possession, possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct toward police and theft in two other cases. Authorities said Romero-Colon will serve concurrent sentences for all three cases.

Romero-Colon’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Michael Light, called the motion a favorable resolution for everyone. Light added that Romero-Colon has accepted responsibility for the incidents.

Police pursuit

On November 7, police were dispatched to the 1100 block of Brandywine Street for a report of shots fired. With the public’s help, officers were able to identify the suspect as Cesar Wilkins Romero-Colon.

Romero-Colon allegedly fled on a bicycle before police arrived on scene and then stole a 2005 Dodge Caravan in the 500 block of N. 2nd Street. A South Lebanon police officer located the stolen vehicle in the area of ​​3rd Avenue and East Cumberland, next to a pizza restaurant. The officer attempted to stop the vehicle, but Romero-Colon fled.

Romero-Colon then fled the scene in the opposite direction on Route 422, swerving through traffic at a high rate of speed, with police following him, police said. As he drove the stolen vehicle to the intersection of Narrows Drive and Route 422 in South Lebanon Township, he crashed into a 1995 Toyota Corolla, according to the Lebanon County Prosecutor’s Office.

Authorities say the collision left the 70-year-old driver with serious injuries. Colon then lost control of the stolen car, which crashed into a nearby field.

A South Lebanon Township police officer pulled over to the side of the road and ordered Romero-Colon to exit the vehicle. Romero-Colon exited the vehicle and fled on foot across the field and directly onto Route 422, approaching oncoming traffic with the gun drawn.

A Lebanon City police officer exited the vehicle and ordered Romero-Colon to surrender. Authorities say he brandished a firearm and attempted to steal the police vehicle.

A video obtained from a police vehicle and released by the prosecutor’s office in November shows Romero-Colon trying to gain access to the police vehicle. The driver accelerated, causing Romero-Colon to fall to the ground.

As Romero-Colon stood up, he pointed his gun at a South Lebanon police officer. The officer fired two shots before surrendering, and no one was injured as a result of the gunfire.

Romero-Colon was in possession of a stolen 9mm pistol at the time of his arrest, which he had purchased in a “street transaction.” Authorities said the weapon was loaded with one round.

The Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office announced in November that the South Lebanon police officer was correct when he shot Romero-Colon.

Community impact

In one day, Romero-Colon took away so much that was “the source of life” for residents of the Lebanon County community, Graf said. The owner of the 2005 Dodge Caravan did not have collision insurance and is still dealing with the aftermath of Romero Colon’s crash with his vehicle.

“That’s the van he used to get to work in. That’s the van he used to work in and he couldn’t afford to replace it,” she said.

The driver of the 1995 Toyota Corolla required surgery after the collision. Graf said he suffered multiple injuries, including a broken leg, a hip bone and a broken left arm. He then spent a month in a rehabilitation center recovering from his injuries.

Graf said that a month before the accident with Romero-Colon, the driver of the Toyota Corolla lost his wife.

“The best way I can describe it is that the accident has shattered his spirits,” she said. “He talks about the great sadness he feels about losing his wife and his car, and the lack of dignity he now feels in the way he presents himself and physically carries himself.”

Graf said officers on the scene that day were very grateful that no officers were shot because “that could have very easily happened.”

“You can hear her on the body camera when she just screams, ‘No,’ and you can hear the pain and the fear that she’s feeling,” Graf said.

According to Graf, the minimum sentence Romero-Colon could receive is 10 years. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 28, 2024.

Matthew Toth is a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News. You can reach him at [email protected] or on X at @DAMattToth.