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Soldier who drove armored vehicle from Fort Pickett to downtown Richmond given conditional release

Soldier who drove armored vehicle from Fort Pickett to downtown Richmond given conditional release

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A Virginia Army National Guard officer who left his post in an armored vehicle during military training at Fort Pickett and led police on a 65-mile pursuit ending in downtown Richmond has been given a conditional release.

In August, Joshua Yabut, 31, was found not guilty by reason of insanity of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and violating the terms of his bond in Nottoway County Circuit Court. On Friday, a judge ordered his release contingent on several restrictions, which Nottoway Commonwealth’s Attorney Leanne Watrous did not detail in a news release.

The order stipulates that at least every six months, “reports on his progress and adjustment in the community be submitted to the court,” that Yabut cannot possess or own any firearms, and that he must seek the court’s OK to leave the state.

“If at any time the court finds reasonable grounds to believe that Yabut has violated the conditions of release, or is no longer a proper subject for conditional release, and that he requires inpatient hospitalization, the court may order an evaluation and may revoke his conditional release, or hold him in contempt for violation of the conditional release plan,” Watrous said in the release.

According to mental health experts Watrous cited during the plea hearing last summer, Yabut was delusional on June 5, 2018, when he drove a nearly 12-ton armored vehicle off Fort Pickett in Nottoway County.

The first lieutenant told psychologists after his arrest that he believed he had been given orders to carry out a “confidential mission,” Watrous told the court. Yabut believed that Fort Pickett military personnel and state police were “all part of the ruse,” the prosecutor said. Records showed Yabut has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Two hours and 65 miles later, he was apprehended after stopping the M577 — an unarmed, tracked command post vehicle — near Capitol Square on Broad Street. The episode earned him local fame and the nickname “Tank Man,” although the vehicle he took wasn’t technically a tank.

His delusional state apparently persisted after he was released on bond. Yabut traveled to Iraq in January 2019, violating the terms of his bond. He told a clinical psychologist that he was acting under the belief that “once he got there, he would solve everything,” Watrous said in her summary.

After his insanity plea, Yabut was sent to Central State Hospital, where he was evaluated to determine whether he should be committed indefinitely or released with conditions.

Yabut still faces a more serious charge of eluding police in Richmond. Two other charges, including driving under the influence of drugs, were dropped earlier, and his case in Richmond Circuit Court was moved to the mental health docket. He was last in court in December; no future date has been set.

Yabut was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 with the Illinois National Guard and remains a member of the Virginia Guard, which, according to a spokesman, is waiting until any civilian criminal charges are adjudicated until deciding whether to take any military disciplinary action.

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Twitter: @AliRockettRTD


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