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Suspect in trooper's injury turns herself in

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A St. Albans woman accused of seriously injuring a State Police officer as he tried to apprehend her for shoplifting turned herself into authorities Wednesday.

The officer, Sgt. Aaron Nichols, remained in intensive care after being struck by a car and thrown several feet in the Goody's parking lot at the St. Albans Mall.

Troopers met Jennifer Elaine Garretson, 32, along W.Va. 25 near Institute after two days of trying to get her to surrender.

Her arrest led to a sigh of relief among many in the law enforcement community and from the Nichols family.

"We immediately started getting texts and phone calls, not only from the media but other officers that were glad to hear this, it's a great relief," said State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous.

"We were prepared to spend whatever man hours, whatever resources we needed.

"We are appreciative that during the conversation with these two troopers that she ultimately made the decision to turn herself in to those troopers."

Nichols' younger brother, Jake, flanked by his older sister, Rene Moore, and his father, Clinton Nichols, spoke with reporters Wednesday afternoon at Charleston Area Medical Center's General Hospital.

Jake Nichols said his family was relieved to hear Garretson had been arrested.

"We're relieved and glad everything went well and that there were no other incidents, nobody else going through this because of that," he said. "We're glad that part is over with and we can focus on him getting better."

A married father of one, Aaron Nichols, 36, was showing signs of improvement Wednesday. He was in stable condition and was starting to recognize his visitors, Baylous said.

"He's showing good signs of improvement but it's just going to take some time," Jake Nichols said.

He said the last two days were a roller coaster of emotion for their family filled with tired, long nights. The family has been surrounded by law enforcement since the incident.

For troopers, it was a grim reminder of the three days that Trooper Eric Workman spent on life support in August at the same hospital. Workman and Cpl. Marshall Bailey were shot by Luke Baber during a traffic stop. Both died from their injuries. Authorities shot and killed Baber not far from the scene.

Aaron Nichols, a Clay County native like Workman, sat with the Workman family during that difficult time. He also kept in close contact with them in the months afterward, said Cpl. Jim Mitchell, a State Police chaplain.

A St. Albans-area resident, Sgt. Aaron Nichols was off duty Monday evening and had been shopping when the incident occurred, Baylous said. Nichols, who has been with the State Police about 15 years, now works in the agency's planning and research division.

Clinton Nichols, Aaron's father, raised his four children in Clay County. Jake Nichols said when they would play as children Aaron was always the cop. 

"He knew what he wanted to do and worked until he did it and he did it well," Jake said of his brother. "It didn't matter where we went, he always had his eye, he was always looking. He couldn't turn it off."

"Through this situation he continued to do his job, he just never stopped," Jake Nichols said. "He always tried to do what was right. That's him."

Store employees told police that Garretson was fleeing the store after setting off the front alarms, according to a complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court. Nichols identified himself as a State Police officer and chased her from the store.

Nichols was still chasing her when she got into a 1993 Honda Accord. Witnesses said Garretson nearly struck Nichols and that he jumped onto the trunk to minimize impact. She then accelerated, trying to throw him from the car.

One witness said Garretson "drove recklessly in a circle until Sgt. Nichols was thrown from the vehicle resulting in blunt force trauma to his head," according to the complaint. She fled east on U.S. 60.

St. Albans police responded with assistance from State Police Trooper D.E. Gregory and Sgt. S.E. Wolfe.

Wolfe found Garretson's vehicle along Miracle Drive hours later. Nichols had broken off the rear antenna while holding on to the vehicle. The portion that was broken off matched the remaining antenna. Wolfe also noted several articles of clothing in the back seat with the tags still on them, the complaint said.

Troopers found Garretson's boyfriend living nearby on Miracle Drive. Glen Paxton told troopers Garretson had been at his house earlier in the day but left after an argument. He said he left during the day and didn't know if Garretson, who had a key to his home, had returned.

He gave the troopers her cellphone number.

Wolfe sent Garretson a text message Monday night identifying himself as a trooper and asked her to call or text him back. She replied, saying she was at a friend's house in Charleston. She told him she wanted a day to say goodbye to her two children, and that she would surrender after that.

The sergeant tried to call her but she didn't answer. She then sent him a text message, saying "Trooper Wolfe he jumped on my car," the complaint said.

Wolfe told her via text message that she needed to turn herself in "before things became worse," to which she responded "K," according to the document.

She was taken into custody and taken to the South Charleston detachment for processing. Garretson was arraigned at Kanawha Magistrate Court on a single count of malicious wounding, a felony worth two to 10 years in prison if convicted.

She remains at South Central Regional Jail on a $150,000 bond.

Garretson was on parole from the Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County as of February 2012. She was sentenced in November 2010 on a Putnam County charge of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. She was also sentenced at that time for a charge of forgery or uttering in Kanawha County.

Baylous said Garretson also might have violated her parole, as a detainer was filed against her while she was jailed.

The incident remains under investigation. Baylous said investigators were backtracking Garretson's movements to determine if she had any help.

St. Albans Capt. James Agee said city officers are continuing to work with troopers on the investigation.

"It doesn't matter what color uniform you wear, you tend to know each other or at least know of them," Agee said. "He's friends with several of our officers. You live in the St. Albans community, you're part of us."

A preliminary hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 14.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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