Law enforcement officers are still searching for one of three men who were in a vehicle that rammed a Coconino County Sheriff deputy’s vehicle less than 30 miles north of Strawberry Wednesday and who apparently fired shots at the vehicle.
The man, Justin Thomas Schutze, 18, is considered armed and dangerous and was last seen fleeing police off Highway 87 around mile marker 297.5. He is believed to be the operator of a vehicle which rammed the sheriff deputy’s vehicle, fled the scene and is wanted for aggravated assault on a police officer, felony theft, theft of firearms and felony flight.
Deputies are currently conducting a search in the Blue Ridge area, where the trio apparently committed a number of burglaries, a sheriff’s spokesperson said.
Schutze is a white male, with short red hair, blue eyes, 6’ 3” in height, weighing 240 pounds. He was last seen wearing a black shirt and black jeans.
On Wednesday, Dec. 8, at about 10:30 p.m. Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies were pursuing three suspects in a stolen vehicle on Highway 87 when the driver of the suspect vehicle intentionally rammed a Coconino County Sheriff’s vehicle parked on the side of the road with its emergency lights on. Two suspects were taken into custody but Schutze escaped after the vehicle crashed.
Following a preliminary investigation and interviews with the two suspects, the Coconino Sheriff’s office the following reconstruction of events.
Starts with residential burglaries
During the week of Nov. 21 to Nov. 27 Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives investigated four residential burglaries in the Blue Ridge area, during which alcohol and numerous firearms were taken.
On Friday, Dec. 4, concerned citizens called the Show Low Police Department to report suspicious subjects who were in the fenced yard of a Show Low car dealership. Show Low Police responded, however the suspects jumped the back fence, fled on foot and eluded the officers.
The responding officers located a pickup truck parked in front of the lot that did not belong to the dealership inventory. In the vehicle, officers found gas containers, siphoning hoses and tires taken off of new vehicles in the lot.
They also found forms of identification that are believed to belong to two of the suspects. The vehicle is registered to the parents of one of the suspects.
On Saturday, Dec. 5, two of the suspects reportedly stole a Ford Expedition parked at the United Methodist Church in Show Low.
The suspects said they found the vehicle unlocked and with the keys in the ignition. According to statements made by the suspects, the first two picked up the third suspect and drove to and around in the Show Low area.
On Sunday Dec. 6, it is believed the suspects returned to the Show Low area where they abandoned the Ford Expedition and stole a 1995 Chevrolet work truck. They drove the truck to a Circle K in Show Low where they backed through the front display window allowing them to enter the store on foot and steal alcohol and cigarettes.
They returned to the car dealership in Show Low where they stole a brand new 2011 Yukon Denali. The suspects said they had stolen the ignition keys for the vehicle during the previous burglary of the car dealership.
They drove both vehicles to a wooded area where they set the Chevrolet truck on fire, totally destroying it.
The suspects drove the Denali back to the Circle K where they stole additional alcohol.
During Saturday and Sunday it is believed that the suspects committed as many as six additional residential burglaries during which they took alcohol and numerous firearms.
Sold guns in Glendale
On Sunday it is believed the suspects drove the Denali to the home of one of their friends in Glendale, where they sold some of the guns taken in the previous burglaries.
Show Low Police officers had determined the stolen vehicle was equipped with OnStar and utilized that system to get a current location on it and to disable it. Glendale Police then responded to the location.
Prior to the arrival of Glendale officers, the suspects attempted to leave the area in the Denali and realized it wouldn’t start and fled the area on foot. Upon searching the abandoned Denali, Glendale Police officers found an additional 20 firearms that are believed to have been stolen during the previous residential burglaries in Blue Ridge.
The three suspects got separated while fleeing from their friend’s residence but met up with one another in Glendale and stole a 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe.
At no time did the suspects have to forcibly enter any of the vehicles they took due to the fact that with the exception of the Denali, all of the vehicles were left unlocked with the keys inside.
At this point, the suspects left Glendale and were headed back to Blue Ridge when they stopped in Camp Verde and stole a travel trailer, which they attached to the Chevrolet Tahoe. While the suspects were travelling on a state highway in route to Blue Ridge an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer attempted to stop them for a speeding violation and the suspect driver fled from the officer. While being pursued by the officer, one of the suspects climbed into the back of the Tahoe, rolled down the rear window and disconnected the travel trailer from the vehicle while it was in motion. The trailer swerved down the highway.
The suspects reportedly returned to Blue Ridge and drove to a wooded area where they caused the Tahoe to strike several trees and eventually come to rest in a bar ditch rendering it inoperable.
The suspects hiked out of the area and allegedly burglarized three additional residences in the Blue Ridge and Clint’s Well areas. Once again the suspects took alcohol and multiple firearms.
They stole a Rhino type utility vehicle and drove it to the Happy Jack Lodge where they took a Ford F150 pickup truck and abandoned the Rhino.
As the suspects entered the city limits of Winslow, a Winslow police officer attempted to stop their vehicle. Once again, they fled from the pursuing officer. As the pursuit left Winslow, Navajo County Sheriff’s deputies joined the chase. However, once the suspects crossed the county line the Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies assumed the pursuit.
Suspects’ vehicle rams sheriff’s car
As the pursuit proceeded on Highway 87, a Coconino County sheriff’s lieutenant pulled his vehicle to the shoulder, turned on the emergency lights and exited his vehicle. As the suspect vehicle approached, witnesses believe that the suspect driver intentionally drove across the opposite lane of traffic and struck the unoccupied sheriff’s vehicle.
The collision rendered both the sheriff’s vehicle and the suspects’ vehicle inoperable. All three suspects exited the extensively damaged vehicle and fled on foot.
An Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter responded to the scene and spotted two of the three suspects.
The helicopter crew spotlighted the suspects and directed ground units to their location, at which time they were taken into custody.
Coconino County Sheriff’s detectives are investigating the possibility that one of the suspects fired several shots during the pursuit and that a round may have struck a sheriff’s vehicle.
Eighteen year-old Christopher Goetschel of Winslow was arrested on one count of theft of means of transportation and one count of felony flight from law enforcement officers. A 17-year-old male, also of Winslow, was arrested for the same charges.
This case will be referred to the Coconino County Attorney’s Office for review and numerous additional felony charges are pending.
It is anticipated that there may be additional felony charges from several other counties.