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Shots fired in road rage altercation

Jonathan Wade Ellington made his first court appearance via closed circuit TV. 
 (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Jonathan Wade Ellington made his first court appearance via closed circuit TV. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The man accused of running over and killing a 41-year-old woman in an alleged fit of road rage is being held on $10 million bail.

Jonathan Wade Ellington, 45, of Hayden was charged Tuesday with second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery after allegedly killing Vonette Larsen and ramming the car holding her two grown daughters on New Year’s Day.

Authorities said Tuesday that Ellington ran his GMC Jimmy into the Larsens’ Subaru sedan, then continued across Scarcello Road and rammed the white Honda that held the couple’s daughters, Jovon and Jolene. Kootenai County Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger said Ellington accelerated and pushed the Honda about 30 feet, backed up and hit the car again.

That’s when the sisters’ father, Joel Larsen, of Athol, began to fire a .44-caliber handgun at Ellington’s car, Wolfinger said. He said Joel Larsen fired additional shots as Ellington left after running over Vonette Larsen, who was in the road trying to get Ellington to stop. No charges have been filed against Larsen.

Vonette Larsen died at the scene of head injuries, according to the incident report.

The Larsen family declined comment on Tuesday.

Marge Johnson, owner of Centre Beauty Supply in Coeur d’Alene, said Vonette Larsen was a “very devoted mother” to three daughters. Larsen had worked at the beauty supply store as a hairstylist for the past six years, Johnson said.

“She was a great addition,” Johnson said. “It was a pleasure and an honor to know her. We’ll all miss her very much.”

The incident began as a case of road rage that escalated into what Wolfinger described as a “tragic series of events.”

A 911 call was made just before noon Sunday by Jolene Larsen, 18, and Jovon Larsen, 21. The sisters said a man, later identified as Ellington, was tailgating them as they drove down Ramsey Road. Jovon Larsen said that she slowed down as she neared Brunner Road and Ellington passed the car and stopped in front of them, according to the incident report.

She said Ellington began yelling at her, made an obscene gesture and slammed his fist against the car’s window, according to the report. After Ellington drove off, Jovon Larsen followed him as her sister dialed 911.

Sheriff’s Deputy William Klinkefus said in the report that he asked the women to pull off the road and fill out written statements while he looked for Ellington. He said he told the women to call 911 if Ellington drove past.

Around 12:30 p.m., Klinkefus said, a sheriff’s dispatcher told him the sisters reported they were following Ellington southbound on Ramsey. The dispatcher said Jolene Larsen reported that they were driving as fast as 100 mph as they chased Ellington.

Klinkefus said he told the dispatcher to tell the women to give up the chase, but moments later he got word that the women had called 911 again and said their mother was dead.

Ellington declined a request for an interview on Tuesday. His fiancee, Ann Thomas, said she has spoken with Ellington twice since his arrest and that his version of the story differs greatly from the account of the Larsens and authorities.

Thomas said Ellington had gone to a friend’s house early that morning and returned home around 11:20 a.m.

“He was ranting and raving about these girls playing cat-and-mouse with him and cutting him off on Ramsey,” Thomas said. She said Ellington told her that the women were “flipping him off, cutting him off and driving in front of him slow and erratic.”

Thomas said Ellington told her that he got out of his car, yelled at the sisters and then came home.

About a half hour later, Thomas said, Ellington got in his car to leave for a friend’s house and a car began to chase him.

“They were chasing after him,” Thomas said. “He was trying to lose them.”

Thomas said Ellington told her that his car was rammed off the road by the Larsens and that Joel Larsen got out of his car and began shooting.

“He was scared,” Thomas said. “He said all he could think of doing was getting out of there and away from the gunfire.”

She said that Ellington didn’t know he had run over Vonette Larsen when she talked to Ellington the night of his arrest.

Thomas said that Ellington is a truck driver and she traveled with him. She said the two had recently become engaged and that he was like a father to her 3-year-old son.

“We were trying to get our life in order and make a family for my son,” she said. “He never meant to hurt anybody. He’s a good person.”

Prosecutors on Tuesday asked that Ellington’s bail be set at $10 million given his previous criminal history, which includes charges of assault, battery, on which he wasn’t convicted, and two DUI convictions. At the time of his arrest Sunday, Ellington was wanted on an outstanding warrant for violating terms of a 2002 DUI conviction.

The warrant was issued in 2003. Even as he was wanted on the warrant in Kootenai County, prosecutors said in court Tuesday that he went to Arizona and was convicted of assault, and then in 2004 went to Utah where a misdemeanor assault case is pending against him.

Magistrate Barry Watson agreed to set bail at $10 million, noting that Ellington’s record in Kootenai County was extensive and that nine warrants had been issued for his arrest in the past, including the outstanding warrant from March 2003.

A preliminary hearing for Ellington will be scheduled for sometime in the next 14 days, Watson said.