ASHE COUNTY-Despite suspending a short-lived manhunt for a potentially “heavily armed” local teenager Friday afternoon, Ashe County Sheriff James Williams said he’s confident Skylar Branson, 19, will soon be in ACSO custody.
Early on the afternoon of Feb. 26, Williams said Branson and an unidentified female were having an argument in a car. Williams said the altercation occurred in the Horse Creek area of Ashe County.
“According to her she jumped out of the car to get away from him and ran into a nearby house,” Williams said. “He came in the house behind her, grabbed her, took her back to the car and threw her in the car, and may have had a weapon on him at the time. He got back in the car and the pair drove away.”
Williams said the owner of the home then called 911, which sent the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office in pursuit. Two ACSO Detectives, Dennis Anders and David Upchurch, soon spotted Branson’s vehicle and pursued the car for several miles up NC-88 until Branson lost control trying to make a turn and slammed the car an embankment.
Williams said Branson exited the vehicle and escaped into the woods on foot at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 26. Since the chase ended near North Carolina’s border with Tennessee, Williams said the Johnson County, Tenn. and Watauga County Sheriff’s Offices were also alerted to the situation.
“He had a handgun on him and we seized two other weapons in the car, along with ammunition,” Williams said. “He also had a ballistic vest with a steel plate that he dropped while he was heading into the woods.”
Williams said two officers tracked Branson through the snow for another 90 minutes when the sun began to set.
“I had to make a determination about the crime that was committed and how dangerous the situation was,” Williams said. “We know he had a gun on him – maybe more – but he hadn’t murdered anybody and you have to make a call. Is this worth getting into a shooting situation over and getting one of my guys hurt or hurting him?”
Ultimately Williams said he made the decision to suspend the search for Branson around 6 p.m. Feb. 26, with the realization that he’d likely be picked up by officers in the near future.
“We searched his grandmother’s house where he sometimes stays,” Williams said. “He doesn’t have a whole lot of options. Somebody will find him before long and it’ll be a much less dangerous situation.”
The passenger in Branson’s vehicle was OK following the crash, according to Williams.
Williams said Branson will be charged with felonious restraint and will be hit with additional charges when the ACSO takes the teen into custody. Branson could also potentially be charged with possessing a “weapon of mass destruction,” according to Williams, as officers found at least one sawed-off weapon in the car.
“He will see us again,” Williams said.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.