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Suspect in car chase contaminates, shuts down Montezuma jail

Man arrested after car chase

A Friday morning traffic stop in Montezuma County led to a chase with sheriff’s deputies and police, a crash and a 5-hour shutdown at the county jail.

According to Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin, a deputy spotted a police vehicle he didn’t recognize, and which appeared to be speeding, about 8:10 a.m. on Colorado Highway 184. When he tried to contact the vehicle, it reportedly led him on a chase that eventually involved several other deputies and the Cortez Police Department. When the suspect was arrested after crashing into McElmo Creek, hazardous materials on his clothes caused the Montezuma County Detention Center to be shut down for decontamination during the booking process.

The suspect, 31-year-old Albuquerque resident Michael McMordie, was driving an Albuquerque Police Department vehicle that was reported stolen at 5:30 a.m. Friday. When Montezuma County deputies contacted him, he was near the intersection of Colorado 184 and County Road 27 and had the vehicle’s emergency lights on. He reportedly turned the lights off when he saw the deputy’s vehicle and reached speeds approaching 100 mph as he turned onto U.S. Highway 491 and drove south toward Cortez.

At that point, Nowlin said, he was in pursuit and saw the fleeing vehicle driving at normal speeds, but still evading deputies. Deputies attempted to stop McMordie outside town by laying down spike strips, but he reportedly avoided them. The Cortez Police Department reportedly spiked McMordie’s tires near mile marker 136 as he continued south of town, but he still didn’t stop immediately. The chase ended when McMordie reportedly drove off the road and into McElmo Creek.

Deputies and police officers were able to retrieve McMordie and the stolen vehicle, but Nowlin said they had some trouble getting him out of the car because he had handcuffed himself to a rear-view mirror. Although the sheriff said McMordie was not injured in the crash, he was taken to Southwest Memorial Hospital for a medical clearance, since he showed signs of being under the influence of methamphetamine.

At the hospital, Nowlin said, a nurse who examined McMordie had respiratory trouble that seemed to have been caused by a chemical on the suspect’s clothing or skin. He received a medical clearance, but as he was being booked into the jail, two deputies who had contact with him developed the same symptoms. Nowlin said they were transported to the hospital while McMordie’s clothes were put into biohazard containers and the jail was shut down. Firefighters from the Cortez Fire Protection District arrived about 11 a.m. to help decontaminate the jail’s ventilation system and all the areas McMordie had touched. Nowlin said the jail didn’t reopen until 4 p.m.

Officials are still not sure what chemical caused the reactions in the nurse and deputies. Nowlin said he suspected the drug fentanyl at first, but tests came up negative for it. He now believes McMordie could have been contaminated with a chemical used in the production of meth.

“Some of those chemicals can cause problems with respiration and air contamination,” he said.

The stolen vehicle was cleaned and returned to the Albuquerque Police Department, Nowlin said. McMordie is being held at Montezuma County Detention Center on charges of aggravated motor vehicle theft.

“What a day,” Nowlin said on Friday afternoon.

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