Salt Lake police officer Aaron Leavitt had never engaged in a car pursuit before Saturday.
Now he'll never forget his first.Leavitt was assisting another officer at the Delta Center just after 3 a.m. Saturday when he heard fellow officers calling for help.
Officers John Cameron and Earl Rose were on their way to the Salt Lake County Jail to drop off a prisoner. They reported seeing a woman "screaming for help, waving in a scissor motion over her head," in an adjacent car near 500 East and 700 South, Leavitt said.
"The officers had a feeling that there was something wrong, and they weren't about to let the car go," said Salt Lake Police Lt. Mark Zelig.
Suspecting the woman had been kidnapped by the man driving the car, Cameron and Rose monitored the situation closely. But because they had a prisoner in their car, they were unable to engage in a full pursuit. So, they radioed for backup.
By that time, the officers had witnessed the man beating the woman, who was still trying to escape and was calling for help, Leavitt said. They followed the car east on 800 South to about 1200 East, where the man made a U-turn and fled west.
Even traveling at speeds in excess of 50 mph through intersections, Cameron and Rose saw the woman trying to escape through a window, Zelig said.
When the pursuit intensified, Cameron and Rose - and their prisoner - discontinued the chase.
Officers in two other cars resumed pursuit, including Leavitt. "I heard that they were heading my way," Leavitt said.
He saw the car, followed by officers Jeff Kendrick and Bryce Johnson, pass him going west in the eastbound lanes. He joined as the second unit, calling the chase to dispatch.
About 400 West, with Leavitt in the westbound lanes, the suspect made another U-turn. Leavitt pulled to the far right side of the road and stopped.
"I saw the front of the car rise as he gained speed," Leavitt said.
That's when he realized the man was coming right at him.
"I learned later that he had told the woman that he was going to kill himself and her in the collision," Leavitt said.
"I just remember him looking at me. As he was about to hit me, he was staring right at me. I braced for impact, and the next thing I know I was skidding and spinning, and in a lot of pain."
Even so, Leavitt was able to get out of his car, which was a total loss, and subdue the man at gunpoint.
"By then, the other officers had arrived, and I holstered my gun. By that time, my hand had already started to go numb," he said.
Leavitt was taken to Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, where he was treated and later released. Still in a lot of pain, with pinched nerves in his neck and arm, he serves on light-duty assignments.
Officers recovered a knife in the suspect's car, which he allegedly held to the woman's neck while threatening her life. Apparently, the two had been involved in a domestic dispute, which escalated into a kidnapping.
The man was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail. On Wednesday, Salt Lake County prosecutors filed multiple felony charged against Darly W. Littlejohn, 46, Salt Lake City, including kidnapping, a second-degree felony; attempted homicide, aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; and aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.
He also faces additional felony and misdemeanor charges, according to court documents.
The documents indicate that Littlejohn's captive was his girlfriend, who had just told Littlejohn she planned to move out of their shared home. The woman voluntarily went for a drive with Littlejohn, but he became angry and violent during the ride, the documents state.
The woman told police that Littlejohn threatened her as she signaled for help, saying "if the police did not stop, her head was coming off," documents state.
"The officers' intervention undoubtedly saved the woman's life," Zelig said. "I really think they're heroes."
Leavitt shrugged off his supervisor's compliments, saying it was all a part of the job.
"It was kind of an exciting little adventure, but I'm just glad no one was hurt. We always think of the public, and we were fortunate that at 3 in the morning there wasn't a lot of traffic. I'm just glad he wasn't able to hurt her - possibly kill her - or anyone else."