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Yelling woman protesting vaccine arrested after racing through mall site in car

By The Washington Post Time of article published May 27, 2021

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As a coronavirus vaccination tent was set up in hope of inoculating more residents in Maryville, Tennessee, sheriff's deputies working at the site this week saw an SUV speeding their way - and the person behind the wheel wasn't slowing down for a shot.

Instead, Virginia Christine Lewis Brown was protesting the vaccine by driving her Chrysler Pacifica "at a high rate of speed" through a vaccine tent in a mall parking lot, police said.

"No vaccine!" she yelled Monday as she plowed through the tent, according to witness accounts to sheriff's deputies.

Brown, 36, was arrested for driving through a vaccination tent and "placing the lives of seven workers in danger’’, the Blount County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday. She's been charged with seven counts of felony reckless endangerment.

Tennessee attorneys claim each count carries penalties that include a possible prison sentence of one to 15 years and a fine of up to $10 000.

Brown, of Greenback, Tennessee, did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday. It's unclear whether she has an attorney.

This week's incident occurred as demonstrations from anti-vaccine protesters have unfolded nationwide despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are robustly effective in preventing infections.

Demonstrations have popped up in vaccination sites such as high schools and racing tracks in recent months, and anti-vaccine protesters temporarily shut down Dodger Stadium after maskless people blocked the entrance to one of the country's largest sites.

Although the number of US Covid cases on Wednesday were the lowest in roughly a year, only about 40% of the population is now fully vaccinated, according to a Washington Post database. In Tennessee, more than 31% of the population is fully vaccinated, ranking the state among the lowest in the nation.

The incident happened on Monday morning at a vaccine site operated by the Blount County Health Department at Foothills Mall in Maryville, a suburb of Knoxville, authorities said in a news release. The Maryville Daily Times reported that workers with the health department and Tennessee National Guard were among the 15 people operating the tent at the time.

Sheriff's deputies said they saw the SUV motoring through the cones set up in the parking lot and it kept speeding toward them. An incident report from a sheriff's deputy notes that Brown allegedly told personnel there that "she was not there for the vaccine".

"The deputies reported that Ms Brown did not stop at the check-in area at the entrance of the tent but continued through the tent at a high rate of speed, then exited the tent and out of the parking lot," the sheriff's office said.

As Brown drove off to a nearby bank, workers at the vaccine site told police how the Chrysler almost hit them, according to the Daily Times.

"I had several victims tell me she almost hit them as she fled through the tent at high speeds," a deputy wrote in an incident report. "I was advised that they were within inches and feet of the vehicle as it came through the tent. Several victims stated that they thought the driver was going to kill them."

When officers pulled her over, Brown acknowledged that she drove her car through the site "to protest the vaccine", claiming she was only driving at 8km/h, police records show. She was taken into custody to Blount County Correctional Facility without incident, police said.

Brown was released on bonds totaling $21 000 pending a court hearing. She is scheduled for a June 7 hearing at Blount County General Sessions Court. In her mug shot released by the sheriff's office, a single tear appears to be rolling down her left cheek.

Corie Gouge, a spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Health, told The Post that the county could not comment on the incident since it is part of an ongoing investigation. Gouge praised the workers while emphasising that the Foothills Mall vaccine site remains open for any residents wanting a shot.

"We are grateful for the work and service of our Blount County Health Department staff who are working to protect and promote health-care services in the community, including offering the COVID vaccine," Gouge said in a statement to The Post.

"We hope this incident does not deter anyone who is seeking services from the health department today or in the future."

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