Woman still on the run after police chase

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

NAPLES — A woman who fled into the woods Sept. 23, after ramming a Bridgton police cruiser that was chasing her through Naples, is still at large a week later.

Bridgton Police Chief Richard Stillman said Tuesday that Melissa Penpraese, 45, of Windham, faces charges of eluding arrest and assault with a deadly weapon in the case, but “We mainly want to confirm that she’s okay, and we’ll deal with the charges after that.” Stillman said Penpraese’s license was suspended, and there was evidence that alcohol was involved.

Stillman said the Maine Game Warden’s Service launched a preliminary search on the ground and via airplane the morning after Penpraese ran into the woods near Peabody Pond around 9:30 p.m.

“Obviously, our concern at that point was that she had gotten so lost that she couldn’t find her way out,” Stillman said.

Bridgton Police Officer Todd Smolinsky chased Penpraese to Accomac Road, one of a series of camp roads serving the pond, after stopping her for speeding on Route 302 near the Naples line at 9:20 p.m. Penpraese, who had initially been travelling toward Bridgton at nearly 20 miles over the speed limit, was unable to produce a license, and the second time Smolinsky returned to his cruiser to write her up, she took off.

Smolinsky gave pursuit with sirens and lights flashing, keeping Penpraese in sight at all times. “She continued to evade him, but she wasn’t flying,” Stillman said.

Penpraese circled back toward Naples, turning off the highway onto Lambs Mill Road. She allegedly threw a beverage out the window and passed another vehicle in an unsafe manner during the eight-minute chase, according to the police log. Penpraese sped along Kings Hill Road to Weeman Road before turning on Accomac Road, where the silver Ford Focus she was driving began fishtailing on the dirt, Stillman said.

Penpraese came to a stop at around 98 Accomac Road, and then backed up fast into the cruiser, bending its black metal push bar and causing around $1,500 in damage, Stillman said. Smolinsky ordered her out of the car, but she took off ahead and turned down another dirt road, where she stopped and took off into the woods.

Smolinsky located the car and searched the immediate area before calling in a canine unit from the Cumberland County Sheriffs Department. Deputy Al Winslow spent a couple of hours searching the woods with his dog, to no avail.

Stillman, who had been called into the scene at that point, said it was later learned that Penpraese fled to the house of someone she knew in the area, where she stayed for some period of time. “At some point she had someone come by and pick her up and get her out of there,” he said.

Since then, her whereabouts have been unknown. Stillman said police believe she may have been staying with her grandmother in Windham before the chase.


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