GILBERT, Ariz. — With a police lieutenant mortally wounded and his alleged assailants fleeing in a work truck, more than 50 law officers sped after them in a wild midnight pursuit from the Phoenix suburbs into the nearby mountains.
It was a highly dangerous endeavor. The suspects fired shots at the police cars from the speeding truck, and even tossed out wrenches, other tools and an air compressor tank during the 50-mile chase, police said. A half-dozen police cruisers were disabled after hitting debris or being struck by bullets.
But the two men in the truck were never able to lose the officers, whose numbers continued to grow even as damaged law enforcement vehicles dropped out and the officers inside hitched rides with fellow pursuers.
The chase ended near the small mountain mining community of Superior as violently as it began. The suspects jumped out and opened fire on police before falling to the ground in a hail of bullets. Both are expected to survive.
Authorities said the two men were initially pulled over by Gilbert police Lt. Eric Shuhandler, 42, near the southeast Phoenix suburb of Gilbert at about 11 p.m. on Thursday.
Shuhandler, a 16-year veteran, was shot in the face as he walked back toward the pickup after finding the passenger had an arrest warrant, said Gilbert police spokesman Sgt. Mark Marino. Shuhandler, the father of two girls, was rushed to a hospital, where he died shortly before midnight.
The suspects were identified as Christopher A. Redondo, 35, of Globe, and Daimen Irizarry, 30, of Gilbert, Marino said.
Redondo is believed to have been the gunman and Irizarry the driver who led officers from multiple law enforcement agencies on the pursuit.
"It is nothing short of a miracle that no officers or members of the public were injured or killed," Gilbert Police Chief Timothy Dorn said Friday.
Shuhandler stopped the suspects'' work truck for having an obscured license plate, Marino said. Shuhandler went back to his patrol car and found that the passenger, Redondo, apparently had an arrest warrant. He called for backup and was walking back to the passenger side of the truck when he was shot, about 12 minutes after pulling two men over.
Witnesses called 911 and used the radio in Shuhandler''s patrol car to contact authorities.
Other officers saw the fleeing truck and a high-speed chase began along U.S. 60, which is a freeway in the metro area but turns into a two-lane highway as it nears Superior. Gunfire from the truck disabled the initial pursuer''s vehicle, but other officers never lost sight of the truck, Marino said.
Along the tortuous route up the mountain, the suspects tossed tools and other items out of the back of the truck and fired at officers, said Lt. Steve Harrison of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Five more police cruisers were disabled, but others from five police agencies in all eventually joined the pursuit - Mesa and Gilbert officers, the DPS and sheriff''s deputies from Pinal and Maricopa counties. In all, more than 50 vehicles were in on the chase.
Once in the mountains, the truck stopped in the middle of the highway and both men jumped out, Harrison said.
"They engaged in what only can be described as a gun battle with officers," he said.
Both suspects were wounded in the lower extremities, taken into custody and hospitalized. Both were in stable, non-life-threatening condition Friday, according to Harrison.
Despite the law enforcement entourage, no officers other than Shuhandler were hurt.
Two more police vehicles were involved in a collision at the end of the chase, Marino said.
"It was a very massive response," he said. "We had a lieutenant that was mortally wounded. Officers were aware that these suspects where involved in a gun fight. They had shot an officer. They were shooting at other officers," he said.
Redondo spent nearly four years in an Arizona prison for aggravated assault and related charges and was released in June 2008, according to Arizona Department of Corrections online records.
Irizarry pleaded guilty to assault in Pinal County Superior Court in 2004 and was sentenced to probation, online court records show. An arrest warrant was issued in 2006.
Shuhandler was wearing body armor, Marino said. "Unfortunately he was shot in the head."
He is survived by his ex-wife, daughters, ages 10 and 12, his parents and a sister, Marino said. Services were pending.
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"Right now our entire department is in mourning," Marino said.