An armed passerby fatally shot a suspect who had opened fire on a trooper in an apparent ambush attack as the law enforcement officer, who was responding to a shots fired call, stopped to investigate a car crash along Interstate 10 near Tonopah on Thursday.
The incident started shortly before 4:30 a.m. with a 911 call from a driver east of California who said somebody shot at his car from the median, television station KPHO in Phoenix reported.
According to Col. Frank Milstead, the director of DPS, the trooper was responding to the shots fired call when he came upon a single-vehicle rollover wreck near Tonopah. A woman had been ejected from that vehicle.
The trooper immediately stopped and began laying out flares.
DPS Capt. Damon Cecil said the trooper — a 27-year-veteran of the agency — was ambushed by the suspect when he got out of his vehicle at the scene of the rollover. The trooper was shot and wounded.
“A physical fight between our trooper and that suspect then ensued, at which time the suspect was shot and killed,” Cecil said. “Right now that’s all we have. This is a fluid investigation.”
Milstead, speaking from the hospital to which his trooper and taken, said an “uninvolved third party” who was driving by saw the trooper grappling with the suspect and stopped to help, eventually shooting and killing the suspect.
That civilian, using the wounded trooper’s radio, was the one who alerted DPS to the shooting.
“To the civilian on the DPS trooper’s radio, if you can hear me, I need you to let me know where the suspect is that got in an altercation with our trooper,” the dispatcher could be heard saying on the scanner.
“The suspect is … occasionally breathing or stirring. He’s been shot by a passerby,” the man with the wounded trooper’s radio calmly responded. “He’s laying right next to the officer.”
Cecil said initial indications from the preliminary investigation are that the man who shot the trooper might have been involved in the initial rollover. It’s not clear how, or even if, the suspect and the woman from the rollover were connected.
Neither one has been identified.
“At this time, we don’t know exactly how the events played out other than our trooper got on scene at that rollover collision after responding to a shots fired call and then he was subsequently ambushed and shot,” Cecil said. “Investigators are interviewing witnesses, interviewing our trooper. They’re the ones who are going to be able to solidify the timeline for us.”
The wounded trooper, who was shot in the right shoulder, was airlifted from the scene to Abrazo West Campus in Goodyear. Video from the scene showed him being wheeled on a gurney from the medical helicopter into the hospital.
His injury was serious but not life-threatening.
Milstead tweeted shortly before 7:30 a.m., about three hours after the shooting, that the trooper likely “will be okay [sic] after some recovery.”
A couple of hours later, he said his trooper was in stable condition and would be undergoing surgery.
The woman from the rolled vehicle was air-lifted to the hospital where she later died.
At this point, DPS is not releasing the trooper’s name, saying only that he has worked the same stretch of the 10 for more than two decades.
The incident impacted traffic on the 10 Freeway for hours, according to KPHO.
While most westbound drivers stopped by the closure of the 10 were able to turn around in the median, several semis were stuck for longer.
Kenny Dunn, the driver of one of those rigs, said he was heading west on the highway early Thursday when a single trooper passed him, the lights on his patrol vehicle flashing.
Dunn came upon the aftermath of the shooting several miles down the road.
“There was still smoke kinda over from the rolled over vehicle,” Dunn explained.
He went on to say he saw one of the medical helicopters land a few minutes later. That was the chopper that picked up the wounded trooper.
“He was here maybe 10 minutes at the most,” Dunn said.
A second chopper then picked up the woman ejected from the rolled vehicle.
The closure on 10 is expected to in place until this afternoon.
ADOT said drivers should consider alternate routes, including State Route 85 and Interstate 8. Eastbound lanes of I-10 remain open.
Tonopah is a little less than an hour’s drive west of Phoenix.
This is the second shooting involving a law enforcement officer in the area so far this year. There were 46 such incidents in the area in 2016, plus another 36 in other parts of Arizona for a total of 82.