A boozy jail release party went horribly awry Friday night when it nearly ended tragically — twice.
The night started with a near head-on collision on Highway 260 and ended in a rollover crash that first horrified, then baffled onlookers — as the driver fled into the
woods — barefoot.
Sometime around 5:30 p.m., two men reportedly left the Spur Bar in Star Valley in a 2008 Jeep Wrangler. One of the men had just been released from jail several hours earlier. As the Jeep headed out of Star Valley, witnesses called the Gila County Sheriff’s Office to report the driver of the Jeep was speeding and passing in the center lane.
Shortly after the first call, the sheriff’s office got a call from three occupants of a full-size pickup who reported the Jeep had just struck the truck’s back left panel and bumper, said GCSO Sgt. Craig Smith.
The driver of the truck, who was heading eastbound on Highway 260, just outside of Star Valley, narrowly avoided striking the Jeep head on, the callers reported.
After being struck, the truck’s driver turned around and chased the Jeep on Tyler Parkway, Highway 87 and ultimately down Crackerjack Mine Road, just south of East Verde Estates.
Nearly a mile down Crackerjack Mine Road, the driver of the Jeep lost control and the Jeep flipped multiple times, landing on its wheels.
Two bicyclists in the area with their dogs said they heard a horrendous sound and saw the Jeep in mid air. The cyclists narrowly avoided being struck by the careening Jeep, Smith said.
When Smith arrived on scene, the man who had just been released from jail was lying injured underneath the Jeep. The man told Smith the driver had fled the scene and left his shoes in the car.
The cyclists said the accident happened so quickly they could not tell how many people were in the Jeep.
Smith searched the area for the driver, but could not find him.
Around 12:45 a.m., Tonto Rim Search and Rescue volunteers were called in to search for the “driver.”
TRSAR Commander Bill Pitterle said trackers found footprints from someone barefoot near the crash scene. Trackers followed the trail of tracks through the forest, eventually looping back with Highway 87 where the tracks ended. Smith believes a motorist picked the man up.
Although the GCSO has a suspect, they are not announcing the name because the accident is still under investigation by the Payson Police Department for the hit-and-run and by the sheriff’s office for the rollover.