VERNAL — A Uintah County man accused of trying to kill a sheriff's deputy has been ordered to stand trial, but his attorney suggested Thursday that authorities might have charged the wrong man.
Dallas Acel Rowley is charged in 8th District Court with attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and failure to respond to an officer's command to stop, a third-degree felony.
Rowley, 67, is accused of firing 20 shots from an AR-15 rifle at Uintah County sheriff's deputy Mike Lourenco during a vehicle pursuit on the night of March 8.
Lourenco testified during a preliminary hearing Thursday that he spotted Rowley's Chevy Suburban parked on the side the road about 20 miles south of Vernal near state Route 45. The deputy said he stopped to check on Rowley's welfare.
"I told him, 'I just stopped to make sure you're not broke down or anything,'" Lourenco testified, adding that when Rowley told him he'd been target shooting, there was a "strong odor of alcohol" on his breath.
The deputy said the dome light was on inside the vehicle and he could see that Rowley was alone, except for a dog. Lourenco said he also spotted a .22-caliber pistol on the floorboard below the passenger seat.
"I asked him to step out of the vehicle, and he paused for about 20 seconds, and then he said, 'No,'" Lourenco said.
Investigators say Rowley drove away, leading the deputy on a short, strange chase that involved Rowley pulling over and then driving away several times. Lourenco said the man he was chasing even reversed direction.
The chase ended when Rowley parked across the roadway with the driver's door of the SUV facing the deputy's oncoming patrol truck, according to Lourenco.
"I could see him in the driver's seat, and then he disappeared from view," he testified.
When Rowley reappeared, he had an AR-15 rifle with a scope that he pointed out his open window, the deputy said.
"I thought, 'He's going to fire at me. He's going to shoot at me,'" Lourenco said, describing how he quickly stopped his patrol truck, put it in reverse, laid over toward the passenger seat and began driving backward.
"I recall hearing glass breaking and pinging," the deputy said. "The kind of noise associated with bullets hitting metal."
In total, the deputy's truck was hit by 10 bullets, investigators said. Three of those rounds slammed into the driver's seat.
Defense attorney Benjamin Grindstaff didn't dispute that Lourenco had been shot at, but did try to poke holes in the deputy's identification of Rowley as the man who had pulled the trigger.
He noted that Lourenco didn't include the detail about the dome light being on in the SUV until nearly three weeks after the shooting, when he filed a supplement to his initial incident report. That second report was also the first time Lourenco mentioned a pickup truck that drove toward him after the shooting and after Rowley had driven out of sight in the direction the truck had come from.
Lourenco said the additional details he provided in the supplemental report where things he remembered as he reflected on the shooting in the days after it happened. He also testified that there wasn't enough time between the shooting and the appearance of the pickup truck for someone to get out of Rowley's SUV and climb into a truck.
Grindstaff, though, wasn't convinced.
"I don't think that he could identify Mr. Rowley or whoever this second person is that drove by," Grindstaff said after court. "You know, (Lourenco) says there was another truck there. That person could have been (the shooter). Someone could have hopped out of the Suburban or whatever."
The shooting disabled Lourenco's truck, preventing him from pursuing Rowley, who drove off into The Book Cliffs. He surrendered on March 10 to Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell, ending a two-day manhunt.
At the conclusion of Thursday's hearing, Judge Clark McClellan ruled there was sufficient probable cause to bind Rowley over for trial. He set an April 10 hearing to discuss any pretrial motions.
Rowley remains in the Uintah County Jail. His bail is set at $500,000.