By Michelle Rindels and Scott Sonner
MUSTANG, Nev. — Two Nevada state troopers have been put on paid administrative leave while sheriff's deputies investigate the carjacking of a patrolman's cruiser that ended with an apparent suicide east of Reno.
Washoe County deputies were trying to determine Tuesday how a man was able to steal the patrol car before carjacking another vehicle on Interstate 80, then allegedly shooting himself dead with a trooper's shotgun.
The ordeal began just before 4 p.m. Monday when two troopers in separate cars pulled over a 2013 Ford Explorer near the Mustang exit just east of Sparks. During the stop, one of the four people inside got out of the SUV and jumped in the cruiser.
"It was a very bold act," NHP trooper Chuck Allen said Tuesday.
Other law enforcement officials started chasing the stolen vehicle, and eventually shot out its tires, NHP officials said.
But when the suspect left the patrol vehicle, he took the trooper's shotgun and carjacked a 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix, troopers said.
The driver of the Pontiac, Marie Coates of Fernley, wasn't harmed. She told KOLO-TV in Reno she was headed eastbound on I-80 just east of Mustang when the stolen trooper's car merged onto the highway and nearly hit her, racing ahead. Before long, she came upon the disabled cruiser blocking the highway and a man got out and talked to a woman in another car who drove off before he approached Coates.
"That's when I noticed the gun," Coates said, looking out her rearview mirror. She said he walked right up to her and fired shots above her car. "He started screaming at me, `Get out of the car, I'm not kidding.'"
The suspect then took off in the Pontiac, attempted to pass a semitrailer and crashed the vehicle, according to NHP.
Authorities said the man got out of the wrecked vehicle and started shooting the trooper's gun in the air before shooting himself several times in the roadway, NHP said.
The suspect died at the scene.
The sheriff's office, which is leading the investigation, confirmed late Tuesday that two troopers are on leave and that deputies are investigating. The sheriff's statement declined to explain the troopers' specific role in the incident or say whether either fired a weapon. Neither was hurt.
"The rest of the information is part of an on-going active investigation and will not be released until its conclusion," Deputy Armando Avina said in an email Tuesday night to The Associated Press
Authorities also have not yet identified the man, or a female passenger in the Explorer. They identified two other people in the SUV as Manuel Alejandro Rodriguez, 29, and Christian M. Magllano Alzpurua, 23, both of Jacksonville, Fla.
Both men have been booked in the Washoe County Detention Center on suspicion of selling a controlled substance, possessing a controlled substance for sale and conspiracy to violate a uniform controlled substance act. Bail has been set at $150,000 for each man.
Allen said the investigation has been handed over to the Washoe County Sheriff's Office. He referred questions to the sheriff's office.
"We are trained for a lot of things. A lot of scenarios come our way," Allen told KRNV-TV.
"But you don't expect a person to either open a car door and run to your vehicle and get in, or to distract you" so someone else can do that," he said.
Details remained sketchy on what exactly transpired that allowed the victim to move from the SUV to the patrol cruiser.
"There is nothing that I can tell you at this time regarding the incident," Trooper Barb Stapleton, NHP's public affairs coordinator, said in an email to AP late Tuesday.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press