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Salt Lake man is sought in shooting of park ranger

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 8:44 p.m. MDT

Lance Leeroy Arellano (Grand County Sheriff) Lance Leeroy Arellano (Grand County Sheriff)

MOAB — Authorities have released the name and photo of a person of interest in the case of a state park ranger who was shot at least three times Friday.

Lance Leeroy Arellano, 40, "has been identified as possibly being involved in the shooting of a law enforcement officer" and is thought to be armed and dangerous, according to the Grand County Sheriff's Office.

Arellano has a criminal history including assault, possession of a controlled substance, drug paraphernalia and theft.

Multiple law enforcement agencies have been searching for Arellano, who they believe is wounded, since Friday evening.

Park ranger Brody Young was shot in the arm, leg and stomach after stopping a vehicle at the Poison Spider Mesa trailhead at about 8:40 p.m. Friday. He was flown to St. Mary's hospital in Grand Junction, Colo. Young remained hospitalized Sunday in critical but stable condition. Since then, a manhunt involving more than 160 law enforcement officers has been underway.

Brody Young (Utah State Parks and Recreation) Brody Young (Utah State Parks and Recreation)

Investigators expanded their search by air and foot Sunday despite weather conditions that at times hampered the search.

As investigators prepared to search one area of the canyon where the man is believed to be, snow and rain prevented them from entering around 3:30 p.m., according to the Grand County Sheriff's office.

Heavy overnight rain Saturday actually helped in the search Sunday, unveiling fresh tracks in the mud as the manhunt narrowed to an area flanked by the Colorado River on the east and slick red rock formations to the west.

Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland said Sunday the intensity of the search had deepened, with 140 law enforcement officers on the ground focusing on a triangular area where the gunman's rifle and backpack were found on Saturday. Searchers also found a bloody T-shirt the man may have used as a tourniquet.

Officials investigate a scene west of Moab where a manhunt was under way Saturday for a gunman near the canyons of the Colorado River. A Utah State Parks ranger was in critical but stable condition after being shot three times Friday night while patrolling the popular Poison Spider Mesa Trail. (Alan Neves, KSL-TV Chopper 5) Officials investigate a scene west of Moab where a manhunt was under way Saturday for a gunman near the canyons of the Colorado River. A Utah State Parks ranger was in critical but stable condition after being shot three times Friday night while patrolling the popular Poison Spider Mesa Trail. (Alan Neves, KSL-TV Chopper 5)

"I'm gonna catch him," Nyland said. "We know he's still there, and there's not any way out for him."

Nyland said Young exchanged gunfire with the driver, who sped away from the scene and remains on the loose somewhere in the canyon. The man, who police believe is carrying a .40-caliber handgun, had roughly a four-hour head start on searchers, who waited until daylight to get into the canyon.

The silver Pontiac Grand Am the man was driving was found at the end of a road about 12 miles from where the shooting occurred, and footprints were located leading from the car into the canyon. The car is registered to Arellano. Nyland said on Sunday police have been in touch with Arellano's family, and while the man has some experience in the outdoors, he's no expert.

After the shooting, Young was able to radio for help, prompting the exhaustive manhunt now tapping the resources of 28 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Brody Young (Utah State Parks and Recreation) Brody Young (Utah State Parks and Recreation)

Though searchers have not spotted the man, Nyland said there are strong indications he remains in the area.

"It's where the Colorado River goes into the canyon," he said, "so there are steep cliffs on both sides. And other than walking up the river, he doesn't have anywhere else to go."

A perimeter has been established, and the search involves officers with spotting scopes, three helicopters and two boats, as well as tracking dogs.

The search has been complicated by the terrain, which Nyland says includes large boulders, overhangs and erosion-caused holes and crevices in the red rock country — all affording an easy place to hide.

A nearby potash facility has been searched and cleared, and a nearby railroad line with cars needs to be cleared as well, Nyland said. A 2-mile railway tunnel was to be searched Sunday, and there is also a ranch.

"It's a very big job and it's very difficult," the sheriff said.

Despite all those factors, he believes time is on the side of law enforcement and as the hours pass, the chance of capturing the man may grow.

Wounded and frightened, the fugitive may have access to water because of the rain, but he is likely without food and getting tired, Nyland said.

"We hope he gets desperate," and turns himself in, he said.

Young's family, in the meantime, continues to hold vigil over the wounded park ranger, hoping for recovery and struggling to find answers to the shooting.

Brody Young's stepmother, Micheline Young, said she was surprised anyone would react to him in a violent way.

"He's just not abrupt," she said. "He would never irritate someone to this point."

The ranger and his wife, Wendy, are residents of Moab and have three children under age 6. He has worked for the Utah State Parks and Recreation Department for 4 1/2 years, according to Utah State Parks spokeswoman Deena Loyola.

"I think we're a little bit in shock," Loyola said. "We've never had anything like this happen. He's one of our own."

Brody Young's father, wife and at least one sister were with him at the hospital this weekend. Members of the family's LDS Church ward were helping to watch the children, Micheline Young said.

"We were told by doctors that they have an excellent team working on him, so we're just hopeful that he'll be all right," she said.

Both lovers of the outdoors, Brody and Wendy Young worked as river guides in Moab after they were married and spent countless hours exploring, Micheline Young said. "They would spend every summer in that area," she said.

David Nordquist, Young's brother-in-law, said it's rare to catch Young without a smile on his face. "He's the nicest guy you'll ever meet," he said.

Micheline Young said her stepson's job has put him in dangerous situations before, "but never alone.

"He was always part of a team," she said. "They would look out for each other."

Sid Groll, law enforcement director with the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said a ranger being shot is rare, though the job increasingly involves dealing with dangerous people.

"We see those things periodically, and we try and avoid those and teach our individuals how to deal with those kinds of circumstances," Groll said. "But sometimes it happens."

Access to the canyon has been shut off and area campgrounds have been evacuated.

Anyone with any information regarding Arellano is asked to contact the Grand County Sheriff's Office at 435-259-8115.

e-mail: jdaley@desnews.com; amyjoi@desnews.com; mfarmer@desnews.com

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