One suspect died in a shootout with a Montezuma County Sheriff deputy Thursday afternoon near the Utah border. Two others were arrested.
There were no reports of injured deputies.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said a traffic stop by a deputy on County Road G turned into a high-speed chase that ended in Utah just west of the Ismay Trading Post.
The deputy had pulled over a light-colored passenger car east of Sand Canyon for broken brake lights and no visible registration. The vehicle had three occupants.
About 1 p.m., the deputy approached the vehicle, and the driver made a U-turn and fled west. While in pursuit, the deputy was fired upon by someone in the vehicle, Nowlin said.
The pursuit continued for more than 10 miles and ended just across the Utah border after the vehicle lost a tire and was driving on its rim.
“When unable to go further, the driver parked the car broadside in the lane, and the driver came out with his hands up,” Nowlin said, then the car rolled into the ditch, sparking a brush fire.
Another occupant of the vehicle shot at the deputy, who returned gunfire, killing the suspect, he said.
Nowlin declined to say how many shots were fired, but said the patrol vehicle was shot up.
Paul Davis, who lives on County Road G near where the car crashed, said he saw officers in pursuit, then a short time later heard five to six gunshots, a pause, then more gunshots.
The driver and other passenger were taken into custody by the Sheriff’s Office, and turned over to Navajo police. The identities of the suspects have not been released.
A deputy administered CPR to the suspect who was shot, but the person died at the scene.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Wyatt Smith said a Flight for Life helicopter arrived at the scene about 1:30 p.m.
The deputy involved in the gunfight was not identified and has been put on paid administrative leave while the case is investigated.
Working out which jurisdiction where the final shootout took place was difficult, Nowlin said. It was determined that it occurred on Navajo trust land, and because it was a felony, the FBI took over the case.
Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Rob Madden said the FBI took over the investigation about 3 p.m.
The dramatic police action began about 1 p.m., when law enforcement chatter on a police scanner mentioned a pursuit with a suspect on County Road G and a grass fire.
Andrew Gurule, who was at his grandmother’s house in the 23000 block of County Road G on Thursday afternoon, said he saw 14 to 15 emergency vehicles drive up County Road G just after 1 p.m., including Montezuma County Sheriff’s vehicles, Cortez Police cars, four fire engines and two ambulances. He said several of the vehicles stopped near the entrance to the Waste Management plant, at 23817 County Road G.
“It looked like they were setting up a command station,” he said.
Another witness, Duane Yazzie, said he saw a white car pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy, with several “young-looking” passengers inside, while he was driving east past Sand Canyon. As he reached the Cortez Municipal Airport, he noticed a long line of emergency vehicles starting to drive down County Road G.
The grass fire had been put out by 3 p.m., but San Juan County Fire Department personnel were still on the scene. The grass on the side of the road appeared to be burned for about 300 yards.
About a quarter mile of the Ismay Trading Post Road was closed in both directions, and about a dozen emergency vehicles were still on the scene.
Officials at the Battle Rock Charter School, 11351 County Road G, took students inside from recess and locked doors and windows after students and teachers saw emergency vehicles speeding by on County Road G. But Tegan Lewis, the instruction and curriculum development director for kindergarten through second grade, said they received no warning from law enforcement officials, and could not get information from Cortez dispatchers about whether it was safe for students to be outside.
“Considering all the recent school shootings, and the steady increase of violence in our schools, this negligence is unacceptable,” she said in an email.
Lewis said the only organization to contact the school about the shootout was the Waste Management plant.
Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Bittle, of the Cortez Fire Protection District, said Cortez firefighters were called to the scene, but the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office told them to turn back after the San Juan County Fire Department arrived. Bittle also confirmed that one of the three occupants in the suspect’s vehicle had been shot.
At 3:38 p.m., Colorado State Patrol officers said the road would be closed for four to five hours. At 8 p.m., the road was still closed as investigators processed the scene.
On Friday morning, the Utah Highway Patrol reported that the McElmo Canyon Road has reopened after a shooting investigation where one man died. The closure forced westbound drivers to return to Cortez to find alternative routes.
A section of the road was closed in both directions around 1 p.m. just west of the Ismay Trading Post where County Road G crosses into Utah. By 8:30 p.m. Thursday it was still closed, but it has since reopened. The route is a major thoroughfare to and from Cortez from Aneth and Montezuma Creek, Utah.