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'Still shocks me': Hastings PD deputy chief recounts Monday's torching of police cruiser

30-year-old in custody has pleaded guilty to resisting or obstructing an officer in the past
Hastings police cruiser set on fire.png
Posted at 4:48 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-23 18:29:27-04

HASTINGS, Mich. — It's one of those "you have to see it to believe it" moments. The Hastings Police Department had one of its cruisers torched on Monday, and Deputy Chief Julissa Kelly watched it all unfold right before her eyes.

“Still shocks me," Kelly told FOX 17 Wednesday. "A lot of things that we see, I shouldn’t be surprised or shocked anymore, but I still am. People just do weird, crazy things sometimes.”

This was one of those times.

A Barry County man, identified as 30-year-old Jeremy Dunklee, lit a Hastings police cruiser on fire Monday, in broad daylight, right in front of Kelly.

Man caught on camera setting fire to Hastings police cruiser

“I got out of my car and saw him dumping gasoline all over the top of it," said Kelly. "I was in shock for a second or two. As soon as I saw it light up, and saw him turn around and run away, I figured, 'Well, I could stay here with the car, but he’s right here, so let me go run after him, I guess.'”

Kelly took off, chasing after Dunklee while alerting her staff at the same time.

“Then as I was calling it out on the radio, I said, ‘He just lit a patrol car on fire,'" said Kelly. "Some bystanders heard me. I think they were Ace Hardware customers. [They] just came out and assisted me with stopping him.”

Kelly said one man cut Dunklee off with his truck, then got out to box Dunklee in. Soon after, another man ran over to help grab Dunklee, wrestle him to the asphalt and hold him there.

“And he was about 6’2” or 6’3.” I’m 5’3,” said Kelly. "So, I told him to get on the ground so it’s safer for me to put him into custody. He wouldn’t listen, so the bystander helped me take him to the ground, I handcuffed him, and then my partner came on scene.”

RELATED: Deputy chief watches as man torches Hastings police cruiser

It was a wild chain of events, ending in an arrest thanks to a couple of Good Samaritans. Kelly called those men her heroes.

Dunklee was charged on third-degree arson of police property, assaulting and resisting an officer, and habitual offender (fourth offense), according to HPD.

Dunklee has pleaded guilty to assaulting and resisting an officer in Barry County in the past, which made him no stranger to the police department.

“I absolutely recognized him," said Kelly. "I’ve arrested him before. I knew his first name started with a ‘J’ and his last name started with a ‘D.’ I couldn’t remember it, so I asked him and he said, ‘You remember me.’”

Kelly said she asked Dunklee why he would do something like this, and he wouldn't respond. Kelly added the part that makes her most angry is the fact that one of the newest vehicles on their eight-car fleet might be totaled as a result.

“That was a 2020 vehicle," she said. "It took us a while to get them because of COVID because of delays with the dealership, or with the manufacturer. Yeah, it’s a hit; it’s a pretty hard hit to us.”

Members of Hastings City Hall couldn't confirm to FOX 17 if the car was totaled, or if anything could be salvaged.

As for Dunklee, he's jailed in Barry County with a $200,000 bond. FOX 17 confirmed Wednesday that Dunklee also has a warrant out for his arrest in Wisconsin for resisting or obstructing an officer in December 2020.

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