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Man gets almost 12 years for deadly Lil' Pantry crash

A driver who killed a woman and caused a two-alarm fire at a convenience store while trying to elude police in August was sentenced today to nearly 12 years in prison.

Robert Franklin Brooks, 27, was sentenced to 141 months in prison for the deadly Aug. 7 crash he caused while running from police at high speeds. He ran a red light at the intersection of Vilas and Table Rock roads, crashing into a car driven by 63-year-old Catherine "Katie" Hein.

Brooks pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, attempting to elude police in a vehicle, driving under the influence of intoxicants, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and resisting arrest.

Brooks admitted he had used methamphetamine the night of the deadly crash.

Jackson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz said prosecutors tried to resolve the case quickly. He said the family was kept informed during plea negotiations.

He said he hoped the swift closure of the case would help family members in their healing process.

“It was never going to bring Catherine Hein back to her family," Markiewicz said. "We did our best job to resolve this case as fast as possible.”

The incident began unfolding at 11:54 p.m. Aug. 6 when a Medford police officer contacted Brooks behind a Travelodge Motel on Alba Drive. The officer attempted to identify Brooks, who was standing next to his Chevrolet truck. Brooks gave the officer a false name, but the officer checked the license plate of the truck and determined Brooks had a warrant out for his arrest, according to prosecutors.

Another police officer arrived and the two officers approached Brooks, who ran away. Police attempted to use a Taser and pepper spray against him, but both were unsuccessful. Brooks got into his truck and starting backing out of a parking space when an officer opened a truck door and again deployed his Taser. Brooks continued to back up, causing the officer to move out of the way to avoid being struck, prosecutors said.

A third Medford police officer heard the incident unfolding over a police radio and came toward the scene. The officer saw the truck traveling with its lights off and began pursuing Brooks with his lights and siren on. The pursuit continued through east Medford neighborhoods at speeds in excess of 60 mph. A Jackson County sheriff's deputy joined the pursuit, prosecutors said.

Brooks twice ran over spike strips set out by law enforcement, but continued driving at 50 to 60 mph even as pieces of his tires flew off, prosecutors said.

At approximately 12:18 a.m. on Aug. 7, Brooks ran the red light at the intersection of East Vilas and Table Rock roads and collided with Hein's car. Her car came to rest near the side of a Lil' Pantry convenience store. She was extricated from her car and transported to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, where she was pronounced deceased at 1:07 a.m., prosecutors said.

Brooks' truck crashed through the front of the store and burst into flames. Law enforcement officers used a fire extinguisher to keep the flames back as they pulled Brooks to safety. He was taken to RRMC for treatment. After he was medically cleared, Brooks was lodged in the Jackson County Jail Aug. 10.

Court records show Brooks has multiple prior felony convictions, including first-degree burglary for forcing a White City man's door open with his shoulder over an unpaid marijuana debt of $200, then fighting with him over a shotgun.

Brooks was also convicted of first-degree burglary after entering a neighbor's Medford home and hitting a man with a baseball bat.

— Reach staff reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com.

Robert Franklin Brooks