A 21-year-old man was arrested after firing multiple rounds from a handgun during a road-rage incident Monday.
After the shooting, the suspect, Attilla P. Waseta of Chandler, tried to elude police and continued to pursue his victim.
"We were called to assist in stopping a green-colored pickup," Payson Police Sgt. John Heflin said. "The call came out as a road-rage incident by a male driver."
The radio report said the driver of a green GMC Sonoma pickup truck had allegedly fired several rounds from a handgun at another vehicle on westbound Highway 260.
"We went ahead and shut down eastbound traffic at Tyler Parkway and 260. Shortly after, we received information that the vehicle was passing through Star Valley, at which time officers conducted a high-risk vehicle stop. This means the vehicle is a high risk to officers."
Police draw a line
According to the Gila County Sheriff's Office, Payson Police Department and Department of Public Safety reports, the incident started as road rage in an area on westbound Highway 260 currently under construction. Payson police were called to assist as Waseta's vehicle headed into Payson town limits.
Sgt. Heflin said officers deliberately selected a location between Payson and Star Valley to stop the vehicle.
"We prefer to do a high-risk stop on the outskirts of town rather than in town, in case shots are fired," Heflin said.
Sgt. Rod Mamero of the Payson Police Department said events could happen quickly during a high-risk stop, so officers select areas where they can better protect the public and control the situation.
"During a high-risk stop, things can go south. In this case, the suspect would be less likely to run into a business and take a hostage. By pinning him up where we did we eliminated a lot of his options," Mamero said. "This was definitely a team effort between DPS, Gila County and the police department."
Stop sticks were on location and ready to be deployed if necessary.
"Stop sticks are a triangular piece of plastic with razor tipped straws that are placed on the road," Heflin said. "When a car runs over them the wheels start to deflate slowly without blowing the tire so there is no loss of control. It takes about 100 yards."
Just driving home
The victim in the case is a man who was on his way home to the Phoenix area. While driving westbound on Highway 260 the victim had to stop his car several times at construction points where a pilot car was escorting traffic along areas of the highway reduced to one lane. The victim said Waseta's vehicle passed him earlier at a high rate of speed.
"I had seen the car driving extremely fast, maybe 100 miles per hour or more," the victim said. "He pulled off the road and was parked in the gravel. Nothing had happened up to this point. But while I was stopped at the next construction area waiting for the (pilot car) I saw that he was coming up behind me so fast that there was no way he was going to stop in time, so I pulled forward and to the right."
The victim said Waseta's vehicle swerved left and barely avoided a collision.
"I was angry -- I mean, this guy almost crashed into my car," the victim said. "I'm sure it was stupid on my part, but I gave him the finger, to say ‘you a-hole.' He didn't like that very much. He started screaming and making hand gestures."
The victim said that after about five minutes the traffic started moving again and he felt safe because there was a long line of cars and witnesses in the area.
"(Waseta) was still in front of me, but then after traffic started spreading out he pretended to be pulling over to turn right. After I passed him he pulled up right behind me.
"I heard a gun shot. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that he had a gun and was shooting out his window behind me," the victim said.
An officer in the right place
Not knowing what to do, the victim rounded a corner where the highway divided into two lanes and spotted a highway patrol officer on the eastbound side of the highway making a traffic stop.
"Thank God there was an officer giving someone a ticket," the victim said. "I pulled over, and it was strange because the shooter started pointing back at the officer."
The victim ran across the highway and found DPS Officer Doc Dimbat.
"He told me there was a man shooting at him," Dimbat said. "I contacted radio dispatch and had them alert Payson PD and the county."
The victim was able to provide the license plate number from the Waseta's vehicle. Officer Dimbat proceeded to pursue the suspect. The victim was told to head into town where other officers would meet him.
"The officer raced ahead of me and I started thinking, ‘the shooter saw the officer and would know he was coming. What if he pulled off on one of these side roads and waited for the officer to pass.'"
That's when the victim's fears were confirmed. Waseta was hiding and waiting off the highway.
"I looked over and saw the front end of the green truck edging forward from a side road. He pulled out behind me," the victim said.
Not knowing whether police were nearby, the victim pulled into an open Star Valley business. Waseta drove past and headed toward Payson.
"When I approached town I saw that other officers were in place and realized the suspect's vehicle must have pulled over. I turned around and headed back. That's when I saw the suspect," Dimbat said.
Turning around, Dimbat pursued the pickup truck as additional officers pulled up to assist in making the stop.
"We thought it was going to be a failure to yield at first, Mamero said. "But then (Waseta) pulled over. He told us he was just minding his own business."
Inside Waseta's truck, Mamero found empty shell casings fired from a .38-caliber automatic handgun. "I lost count at 20 (empty casings)," Mamero said.
The handgun was hidden under a tray in the console of the vehicle. Other items found included a high-powered rifle, a compound bow and drug paraphernalia.
"We are investigating the possibility that the driver was impaired," Mamero said.
The Gila County Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation and found that Waseta's breath alcohol content was .190 at the scene of the arrest.
The suspect was booked into Gila County jail and charged with disorderly conduct, DUI, possession of drug paraphernalia, misconduct with a weapon, endangerment, and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
Other charges could still be made.