A 31-year-old man was sentenced to prison Thursday for ramming police vehicles at a downtown gas station in 2019, prompting officers to shoot him.
William Carl Henry Melcher was sentenced to 20 years at the Montana State Prison, with 10 of those years served on probation. Under Montana law, people are typically eligible for parole after serving a quarter of their prison term.
Early in the morning of Oct. 9, 2019, Melcher hospitalized both himself and Billings Police Department Officer Tracy Icard by ramming a stolen Ford F-350 pickup into Icard’s patrol vehicle and driving at another officer who was standing outside as he attempted to flee from police attempting to box him in.
The incident took place at the Holiday Station on Sixth Avenue North and North 27th Street around 2:45 a.m. Melcher was drunk and high on meth, and he’d been awake “for days,” according to defense attorney Blaine McGivern.
Melcher later told police he panicked when he saw patrol cars because he was on probation and did not want a theft charge. The stolen pickup matched the description of one used in a recent theft at Billings Bronze.
Icard had injuries to the neck and jaw. Melcher was shot eight times, but “miraculously none of the bullets hit arteries or vital organs,” McGivern said.
“I just want to let you know I’m sorry for what I did,” Melcher said Thursday, crying. Melcher appeared by video from jail. Court officials have been trying to minimize transporting people from jail to the courthouse as a public health precaution.
Yellowstone County District Judge Rod Souza said Melcher was contrite in his apologies. But, he said, it was dangerous that Melcher was “so desperate to avoid accountability while under the influence,” and he noted Melcher only stopped ramming vehicles when officers fired at him.
No officers testified at the hearing, but prosecutors did play video of the incident compiled from officers’ patrol cars and neighboring business surveillance cameras.
Melcher had graduated from a City of Billings drug treatment court in 2017, roughly a year and a half before the incident.
McGivern said his client had done well initially but hit a “downward spiral,” in part due to his father’s death. He said Melcher was ashamed of what he did and sorry for hurting Icard. He said Melcher did not see the officer in his patrol vehicle before hitting it.
Senior Deputy County Attorney Paul Vestal said prison was appropriate.
“The crimes that occurred in [this case] I believe did take away the sense of safety in the public, as well as [from] our law enforcement officers,” Vestal said.
Prosecutors recommended the 20-year prison sentence that Souza handed down. McGivern had recommended the same term, but asked that the Department of Corrections determine Melcher’s placement, rather than ordering a direct prison sentence.
Souza said the violent offense warranted prison time.
Souza also ordered Melcher to pay $76,518.16 in restitution. Roughly $52,000 of that will go to the City of Billings, while roughly $22,000 will go to the owner of the stolen pickup Melcher was driving at the time. Another $2,500 was ordered to reimburse insurance for damage to a fence belonging to Ryan Automotive, which is next door to the Holiday Station.
In June, Melcher pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and theft, and no contest to assault with a weapon.
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