WENDOVER, Utah- Utah Highway Patrol troopers are grateful for the help of some good Samaritans who let a trooper use their car after a pair of suspects stole the officer’s vehicle as he responded to a crash Sunday morning.
Later Sunday, police identified the suspects as 28-year-old Tommy Rodriguez of West Valley City and 32-year-old Brady Willes of Kearns.
Trooper Evan Kirby of the Utah Highway Patrol said they were called to a single-vehicle crash on eastbound I-80 at mile marker 21 near Wendover around 9:24 a.m.
“He found a vehicle rolled over and some citizens in a pickup truck that had stopped to help,” Kirby said of the trooper who responded. “The people involved in the crash were loading their personal belongings into the back of the truck and they had told the people who had stopped they would not like police contact and that they were trying to get a ride back to Wendover.”
The trooper ran the crashed vehicle’s license plate and learned the car was stolen, so he took the male and female who had crashed the car into custody. Kirby said the trooper placed both in handcuffs, and the male suspect, Rodriguez, was seated in the “cage” in the back seat while the female, Willes, was in the front passenger seat.
As the trooper was retrieving the suspects’ belongings from the civilian vehicle, the suspects stole the trooper’s SUV and fled toward Salt Lake City on I-80.
“He was still back there with the citizens, and the citizens offered the trooper to take their vehicle to follow the suspects in his car,” Kirby said.
The trooper started following the suspects while calling for backup, and Kirby said as the trooper closed in on his vehicle the suspects pulled over, exited the SUV and fled on foot. The pair ran over some raised railroad tracks nearby, and when the trooper lost sight of them he elected to await backup rather than pursue them alone.
Kirby said multiple agencies responded, and a Utah County Sheriff’s Office fixed-wing aircraft happened to be in the area assisting with an unrelated search and rescue call. That aircraft responded and was able to quickly locate the suspects, who were hiding in the desert and were still handcuffed. Police said both had managed to move their restrained hands from behind their backs to in front.
“The aircraft was crucial in keeping them located and down until we could get additional resources out to them,” Kirby said.
A helicopter arrived on scene and began issuing commands to the suspects over a loudspeaker as ground units arrived at the scene. The suspects were arrested without further incident.
Rodriguez was suffering from a minor breathing issue, so he was taken to a hospital in Tooele. Police say the breathing issue was “potentially from asthma, drug use, or the crash.”
Willes was also taken to the hospital to be checked out as a precaution. Kirby said it is common for pursuits in the west desert of Tooele County to end in a medical situation due to the heat and harsh conditions. Both suspects are expected to be OK.
Kirby said the trooper’s SUV only had room for one suspect in the “cage”, which is why the female suspect was handcuffed and placed in the front passenger seat.
“At this point we’re assuming the female was driving, the male had no way to access the front seat,” Kirby said of the theft of the patrol vehicle.
Kirby said they are grateful to the outside agencies that responded to assist as well as for the help of the civilians.
“The citizens were just good Samaritans, I mean, honestly, they stopped to help the people that had crashed, just being good Samaritans,” Kirby said. “And then when they found out that [the suspects] were being arrested and there was more to the story and they stole the trooper’s car, again they stepped up and were willing to let the officer take their car to track down his car, so, all in all they were just really good people willing to help anybody.”