Dustin S. Fernow, 34, of House Springs has been charged with murder after an Arnold woman died from injuries she sustained in an accident he allegedly caused while trying to flee from Arnold Police on Sept. 2, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Trisha Stefanski announced.
Carroll Politte, 78, of Arnold died Oct. 3.
She was a passenger in a car that struck the vehicle Fernow was driving during the police pursuit.
Fernow initially was charged on Sept. 3 with 23 felonies, including nine counts of first-degree assault, each one a class A felony; two counts of second-degree assault on a special victim because of the ages of the victims, each one a class B felony; one count of resisting arrest and one count of first-degree property damage, both class E felonies; and 10 counts of armed criminal action, all unclassified felonies, court documents show.
Now that Politte has died, however, Fernow now faces a second-degree murder charge, a class A felony, instead of one of the charges for second-degree assault on a special victim, according to the court records.
Each of the class A felonies is punishable by 10 to 30 years or life in prison. The class B felony carries a penalty of five to 15 years in prison. The class E felonies each are punishable by four years in prison, and the unclassified armed criminal action charges each are punishable by at least three years in prison for a first offense and up to 10 years in prison if the person is convicted of three or more armed criminal action offenses.
Stefanski said Fernow is a persistent offender.
Fernow was being held without bond Thursday (Oct. 8) in the Jefferson County Jail, Stefanski said.
The Sept. 2 police pursuit began just before 8 p.m. at the Circle K gas station, 2046 Key West Drive, in Arnold, where Arnold Police Officer Douglas W. Bequette and his partner spotted a 2008 Nissan Altima with no license plates. When the officers pulled into the gas station lot, Fernow quickly got into the Altima and allegedly drove away at a high rate of speed, Arnold Police reported.
The officers, who were in a 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe, pursued the Altima onto Hwy. 141. While on the highway, the police SUV pulled alongside the car so the officers could identify the driver. While the patrol vehicle was driving next to the car, Fernow allegedly swerved at the SUV, forcing the officers’ vehicle into a median. The officers got back on the highway and continued the pursuit, which led to Ridgewood School Road, the report said.
Fernow reportedly turned into the Ridgewood Middle School parking lot, 1401 Ridgewood School Road. Other officers arrived at the school, and Fernow allegedly continued to flee from officers on the lot, swerving at some police vehicles during the pursuit, according to the report.
In the meantime, Bequette and his partner parked at the entrance of the school, and Bequette’s partner was laying down a spike strip when Fernow drove towards the entrance. The Altima hit the side of the police SUV, and Bequette, 54, of Arnold, who was inside the vehicle, sustained a minor injury. He was treated at the scene and was able to return to work, Arnold Police Capt. Rich Shular said.
After striking the police vehicle, Fernow drove over the spike strip on Ridgewood School Road and headed towards Hwy. 141. As Fernow tried to cross the highway, a 2012 Toyota Camry hit the left side of the Altima, which then hit a 2011 GMC Terrain head-on, the Highway Patrol reported.
Deborah L. Thompson, 59, of Arnold was driving the Camry, and Politte was a passenger in the Camry. Alexander D. Nikolic, 57, of De Soto was driving the Terrain. No injuries were reported for Nikolic. However, Fernow was moderately injured, and Thompson and Politte were seriously injured. All three were transported by Rock Township Ambulance to Mercy Hospital South in south St. Louis County, the patrol reported.
Thompson was treated and released, a Mercy South spokesman said Thursday.
Fernow was not wearing a seat belt, but Thompson, Politte and Nikolic were wearing seat belts, the patrol reported.
The Altima and the Camry were totaled, and the Terrain was moderately damaged, the report said.
Shular said the estimate for the damage to the Arnold Police patrol SUV was $4,000.
When Fernow allegedly led police on the chase, he was out on bond after being charged with felony possession of a controlled substance stemming from an April 8 incident when the Missouri State Highway Patrol arrested him in Jefferson County.
In addition, the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charged him on Feb. 28 for misdemeanor stealing connected to a July 2019 incident in Jefferson County and for misdemeanor leaving the scene of an accident stemming from a June 2019 incident in De Soto Police, according to court records.
Fernow previously pleaded guilty to a felony second-degree burglary charge in June 2007 in Washington County and was sentenced to seven years in prison, but the sentence was suspended, and he was placed on five years’ probation. However, Fernow failed to pay restitution and his seven-year sentence was executed, according to court records.
He also was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to felony stealing of a motor vehicle tied to a March 2012 incident in Washington County, court documents show.