Victim identified in fatal crash in Tahlequah

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - While Tahlequah Police identified the victim in a fatality crash Friday on Highway 51 as Malinda J. Phillips of Park Hill, Okla., her husband Scott sent out a message on Facebook that would break your heart.

"This was the first pictures we had made together. I'm so lost without you Malinda Phillips!!! Love you!!!" was the post Scott sent to his wife.

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Officers say that Phillips' 2017 Buick Encore was struck on West St. by a man who was running from law enforcement after he had been seen shoplifting from Walmart.

The police report says Catron ran a stop sign in the area of West St. and Choctaw St. (Highway 51) and slammed into the victim's vehicle. 

The suspect, Aram Barak Catron, has a checkered past. There are 14 court cases against him in Delaware County in the past 17 years and two more in Cherokee County from traffic citations to civil misdemeanors to seven felonies.

Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King said a Cherokee Nation marshal had spotted Catron and tried to stop him when the suspect sped away.

The black Ford pickup that Catron was driving nearly got into a wreck before the fatal crash, according to the police report, almost striking a different oncoming vehicle.

King said he believed the department had encountered the suspect before, but looking into his past it's a little more than an encounter or two. 

The scene was horrifying. 

“I heard it and when I got out here I saw the aftermath of it," said neighbor Kaysha Smallen. 

She said it sounded just as bad as it looked. 

 “She was like, 'I think she’s dead Kaysha. The way that car looks, she’s dead.”'

Police said the 35-year-old Catron was taken to the hospital but his condition was not known.

“Conditions became dangerous for other citizens, the vehicle almost hit another car head on," said Chief King. 

The first car spared but the second one, front completely smashed in, was not as fortunate. 

“He had to have been eluding the police pretty fast," Smallen said. 

 “What started out as a minor shoplifting call has turned into a very complex case," the chief said. 

A complex case with a suspect who has a complex past. 

In a case where he was charged with seven felonies, some of the charges he pled guilty to were eluding police, leaving the scene of an injury collision, driving under the influence of alcohol, carrying a firearm while under the influence and speeding. 

Department of Corrections records show he served 6 years for some of the charges. 

His most recent court appearance just one week ago. 

“This is a senseless act that was caused by someone who was committing crime in Tahlequah no matter how trivial a crime it started out as being.”

The chief disappointed, saying none of this had to or should've happened in the first place. 

 

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