A confrontation between a law enforcement officer and a speeding motorist led to a high-speed pursuit through Payson and down Highway 87 Wednesday afternoon. The suspect remains at large.
At about 4:30 p.m. Gila County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Bill Fogle spotted an erratic driver going west on Highway 260, between Star Valley and Kohl's Ranch.
"He witnessed a vehicle he described as a dust-covered, dark-colored Pontiac Grand Prix, occupied by a male and female and a dog in the backseat, heading westbound on Highway 260," GCSO Sgt. Craig Smith said. "It was traveling at a high rate of speed, passing over the double-yellow line, passing on the right, in the dirt. He said they went through Star Valley at 90 mph plus."
Fogle caught up to the vehicle near Safeway and pulled in front of it to slow it down, Smith said.
While at the intersection of Highway 87 and 260, Fogle called dispatch for backup.
"They get to the traffic light at Highway 87 and 260 and, while the chief was on the radio, the suspect jumped out of his vehicle, ran over to the chief deputy's white, unmarked Tahoe, and opened the door," Smith said.
According to Smith, when the suspect opened the officer's car door, Fogle pulled out his gun and pointed it at him.
"He confronted the suspect at gunpoint with his badge, and identified himself as a police officer," Smith said. "He told the suspect to get on the ground."
Smith said the suspect ignored the command.
"(The suspect) ran back to his vehicle and got inside. The chief confronted him at the door of his vehicle," Smith said. "In an attempt to get the vehicle stopped, the chief tried to get the keys out of the vehicle, at which time the suspect slammed the door on the chief and hit the chief in the face with the door."
Fogle didn't suffer serious injury, Smith said. The suspect sped away and a high-speed pursuit began.
"The suspect then headed south on (Highway) 87 through the Payson city limits at a high rate of speed, at times going through the center line of turn lanes to pass other vehicles," Smith said. "(Fogle) said that when the suspect went through the red light at Main Street, he was going over 70 miles per hour partially up on the sidewalk."
According to Fogle and other witnesses, the suspect ran the stoplight at the casino, going nearly 100 mph.
"The chief tried to overtake the vehicle and the last time the chief saw it was at Corvair Curve on Highway 87," Smith said.
Other officers from the sheriff's office, Payson Police Department and the Department of Public Safety were called in to assist.
"We had several officers assist in the early stages," Payson Police Lt. Don Engler said. "When the pursuit continued south of town, we called off most of the officers and Sgt. (Todd) Bramlet continued on to assist."
"The officers that we had proceeded southbound in an attempt to overtake the vehicle," Smith said. "We had DPS at the south end of the Beeline trying to find the vehicle and one Payson police officer proceed southbound."
The driver managed to elude law enforcement.
"We went to a mile or two south of Four Peaks and never saw the vehicle," Smith said.
The sheriff's office is requesting assistance from anyone who witnessed the incident or has information about the suspect.
"The vehicle is either a black or dark maroon, newer model, Pontiac Grand Prix," Smith said. Officers were unable to get a license plate number.
The suspect is a white male in his early 30s with dark medium-length hair, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, 180 pounds.
"His hair is scruffy and he has a scruffy beard," Smith said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at (928) 474-2208.