Utah man fleeing police shoots self in head

By Michael N. Westley
The Salt Lake Tribune

VERNAL, Utah — A high-speed police chase Sunday in Uintah County ended when one of the fleeing suspects shot at police and then took his own life.

The pursuit began around 11 a.m. when a Utah Highway Patrol trooper tried to stop two men in a newer model Suzuki car for speeding about six miles west of Vernal on U.S. Highway 40.

The 17-year-old driver and his 21-year-old male passenger sped from the officer for nearly half an hour, turning south on State Road 88, according to UHP Trooper Craig Young. The pursuit then headed west toward Randlett before the suspect turned the car around, rammed the UHP cruiser and sped east.

The trooper followed the Suzuki south again on State Route 88 through Ouray, Young said. The suspects crashed their car about seven miles later after missing a junction. Both men in the car ran, and the driver was arrested about 200 yards from the car.

The passenger, a Ute tribal member who police believe is a resident of the Uinta Basin, continued to run from the scene chased by an off-duty Vernal police officer who had joined the pursuit, police said.

The 21-year-old man fired two shots at the officer during the foot pursuit. The officer returned the shots, though the 100 yards distance between the men made it difficult to deliver an accurate shot, Vernal Chief of Police Gary Jensen said. The man then pointed a small handgun to his head and fired, inflicting a mortal wound, according to Jensen.

Because the chase ended, and the fatality occurred, on the Uintah and Ouray reservation of the Ute Indian Tribe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was called to the scene, said FBI spokesman Trent Pedersen.

Jensen said neither the trooper who conducted most of the chase nor the off-duty Vernal police officer were injured during the ordeal. A reason for the dramatic ending to the chase has yet to be determined, he said.

"We haven't been able to come up with any real understandable motive for him taking his own life at this point," Jensen said. The chief was not aware of any criminal history of either suspect.

Neither UHP, Vernal police or the FBI released the name of the victim Sunday night.

The off-duty Vernal officer who fired his weapon at the fleeing man has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, Jensen said.

Copyright 2007 The Salt Lake Tribune
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