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'A few threads' lay between bullet and baby

MEDFORD -- Caught in the crosshairs of a high-speed chase on Interstate 5 Saturday evening, a Medford couple are grateful their 10-month-old son is alive and unharmed -- despite a bullet that was shot nearly straight through his car seat.

Medford parents Ashley and Josh Williams had been traveling home from Roseburg after a day trip when the shooting occurred. The couple-s older son, Arturo, was spending time with family and their baby son Leviathan was strapped into his car seat.

Josh sat in back with the baby, napping while his wife made the final leg of the drive. Just 15 minutes north of Grants Pass, Ashley saw flashing lights in her rearview mirror.

Little did she know it was police chasing after one of two fugitives suspected in a three-state crime spree, including a deadly carjacking in Colorado.

Matthew Anthony Fanelli, 30, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and Jose Lopez-Jovel, 31, of El Salvador had just attempted to steal a car at a Roseburg Red Robin but failed. Fanelli fled in his own vehicle, leaving Lopez-Jovel behind to be arrested, Oregon State Police said in a release. Police spotted Fanelli and gave chase southbound on Interstate 5.

Fanelli fired several shots at police during the pursuit, striking a commercial vehicle, disabling an OSP patrol car and hitting the Williamses’ 2015 Toyota Highlander.

“I was just driving. I wasn’t listening to music or anything,” Ashley recalled. “I had just looked down at my clock in my car. And then I looked up in my rearview and saw them coming.

“Usually you just move over, and they go by, but I could tell they were going pretty fast, so I decided to just pull over.”

It was 5:56 p.m. Three to four minutes later, Williams heard a loud banging noise as Fanelli and law enforcement cars sped past.

“I heard this sound that was really loud and I thought, ‘What the hell was that?’ I just barely looked over and saw the car where the back windshield was busted out, like shattered. And then the cop cars. Josh woke up and that’s when we turned on the scanner and heard the guy was shooting bullets out of his car,” she said.

The couple drove for about 15 more minutes before being able to pull off the freeway near the north end of Grants Pass.

“We called the cops and said, ‘We think our car might’ve been shot,’” she said.

“Josh was on the phone with police. That’s when I hopped out of the car and realized the bullet had gone straight into Leviathan’s door. I just lost it. I was screaming. I dropped to the ground.”

Fanelli eluded police in Josephine County, where he tried to carjack another vehicle from a couple near a residence on Pickett Creek Road, OSP said. He allegedly shot the man, critically injuring him, and assaulted the woman, but was unable to steal the car. Police located Fanelli in his own vehicle and again picked up the chase; when the vehicle became disabled, Fanelli was arrested.

Both are facing multiple charges in Josephine and Douglas county jails.

When police arrived at the Williamses’ car, they found the bullet had traveled through the door, the door panel, the car seat shell and padding of the car seat. Williams said the couple heard the end of the chase, with Fanelli’s arrest, happening via police scanners while they waited.

“The only thing between the bullet and Leviathan was a few threads,” Ashley said Monday. She noted that “all the what-ifs” played through her mind for most of the weekend. What if her 6-year-old son had been sitting in his usual seat? What if mere threads had not separated a bullet from her baby’s neck?

Ashley said she takes solace in feeling as if, perhaps, she had a guardian angel on her shoulder; her mother passed away just weeks before Leviathan was born.

“I keep some of my mom’s ashes in the car, just to feel like she’s with us,” Ashley said.

Provided a temporary car seat by fire department personnel, the couple were later offered a free replacement of their original seat by Graco.

“We don’t have a lot of money. We had just gone to Target and signed up for a credit card to be able to get him a good seat, so it was great that Graco said they’d replace it for us,” Ashley said.

“And then my insurance company called me out of nowhere. I was planning to call them (Monday) but they called me and said, ‘We’re so glad your son is OK, and by the way you have a $500 deductible.’”

While the vehicle still runs with the bullet hole damage in one door, Ashley said it serves as a reminder of one of her most terrifying days as a parent. She said the couple would struggle to repair damage to the car but were grateful the suspects had been apprehended.

The couple were notified on Monday that they would be subpoenaed to testify against Fanelli.

Said Ashley, “I hope he gets all the bad things he has coming to him. All I can think is, I’m just so grateful that my son is OK.”

Prompted by community members on social media to do so, the couple has established a GoFundMe account to accept donations to help with their accident deductible.

Fanelli and Lopez-Jovel are suspected of launching a three-state crime spree that began Friday night with a shooting outside a strip club in Colorado Springs. Denver police suspect the two also were involved in a fatal carjacking in Denver, a convenience store robbery in Wyoming and a Wells Fargo bank robbery in Park City, Utah, according to CBS Denver.

Fanelli remains lodged in the Josephine County Jail on 22 charges, including attempted murder in Saturday’s incident and two fugitive warrants on charges of homicide from out of state.

Lopez-Jovel is lodged in the Douglas County Jail on a fugitive warrant from Summit County, Utah.

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Jose Lopez-Jovel, 31, of El Salvador, allegedly was involved in an attempted carjacking at Red Robin in Eugene.
Matthew Anthony Fanelli, 30, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, is suspected of shooting at police during a car chase Saturday on Interstate 5 out of Roseburg, striking a commercial vehicle, a patrol car and the Williamses' carseat with baby Leviathan inside.