Vehicle theft suspect argues ‘Grand Theft Auto’ defense

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) – The attorney for a Hamblen County man arrested over the weekend in Dandridge for several vehicle thefts and arson asked for a mental evaluation for his client Thursday morning saying he had been awake for 12 straight days and was trying to experience the video game “Grand Theft Auto” in real life.

Joshua Cooper, 27, appeared in court Thursday morning for a preliminary hearing where public defender Russell Veldman claimed his client had been awake for 12 days prior to the weekend’s incidents and asked for the hearing to be reset so Cooper could undergo a mental evaluation. The hearing was reset for May 14.

Veldman told WATE 6 On Your Side that Cooper has “serious issues” and was on a “suicide mission.”

“His favorite game was ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ and it seems he was really reliving his ‘Grand Theft Auto’ experiences in real life,” said Veldman. “With a fifth grade education, with some serious crimes in his past, it indicates that he definitely doesn’t have the normal ability to know right from wrong.”

Cooper was captured early Monday morning in Dandridge. The Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office says he allegedly stole a vehicle in Morristown and led officers and deputies on a chase.

Previous story: Wanted Hamblen County man captured in Dandridge

Officials say Cooper was driving the wrong way down Interstate 40 when he hit a tractor trailer head-on near the Swan Bridge construction site. Speed was not a factor in the crash.

Cooper then allegedly jumped out of his vehicle and swam in Douglas Lake where he was soon taken into custody.

Cooper had been wanted for a string of car thefts spanning Cocke, Jefferson, Sevier and Hamblen counties. Police say he would go in to car lots asking about cars, and when the staff got distracted, he would leave in the vehicles.  Some of the cars were abandoned, others were set on fire.

During a police chase Friday night, officers say Cooper rammed an empty deputy vehicle. While trying to ram another, he lost control and flipped. He was flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center and was released Saturday morning. A female passenger was flown to Holston Valley Hospital.

As officers were transporting Cooper to Hamblen County, they decided to stop at some of the sites to collect evidence where Cooper allegedly abandoned cars. Officers say this is when Cooper stole a cruiser. Officers found the cruiser stuck under a fence a few miles away.

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