independence man pleads guilty to illegally possessing firearm
Led police on high-speed chase, crashing and burning vehicle with three children
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that an Independence, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to illegally possessing a firearm. He was arrested following a high-speed police pursuit in which his vehicle overturned, catching fire, with three small children in the back seat.
Earl C. Watson, 27, of Independence, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Greg Kays to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
By pleading guilty today, Watson admitted that he was in possession of a Walther .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol on July 4, 2010. Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a felony to be in possession of any firearm or ammunition. Watson has prior felony convictions for illegal use of a weapon and theft.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the original criminal complaint that was filed against Watson, at about 9:30 p.m. on July 4, 2010, an Independence, Mo., police officer observed Watson driving a red Pontiac Grand Am with an expired license plate, traveling at a high rate of speed eastbound on U.S. 24 Highway near M-291 Highway. The officer attempted to catch up to the vehicle and conduct a stop, activating his emergency lights and siren.
Watson traveled westbound on U.S. 24 Highway. As Watson approached M-291 Highway from the on-ramp, the affidavit says, his vehicle nearly struck three other vehicles on the wet road. Watson drove southbound on M-291 Highway and entered the intersection of Salisbury Road. When he swerved to miss another vehicle, Watson lost control of his car. Watson's Pontiac struck the concrete median, flipped onto its top, and caught fire. The car slid on its roof for several hundred feet before coming to a stop.
The officer found a child's car seat lying under the rear trunk, with a two-year-old girl strapped into it. He also observed a 3-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy in the rear area of the vehicle. The officer removed the children, who appeared to be uninjured. The engine area of the vehicle caught fire, and the officer assisted a woman passenger in the front seat to get out of the vehicle. Watson got out of the vehicle on his own and attempted to flee on foot, the affidavit says, but was apprehended by the police officer.
According to the affidavit, Watson was wearing an empty holster. The loaded semi-automatic pistol was found on the roadway, where it had been underneath the roof of the vehicle until the vehicle was turned right side up.
Under federal statutes, Watson is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul S. Becker. It was investigated by the Independence, Mo., Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Project Ceasefire, launched in October 1999, is a cooperative initiative by federal and local law enforcement and the Kansas City Crime Commission that targets for federal prosecution persons who unlawfully use or possess firearms.