VERNAL — Authorities from Utah and Colorado are searching for a driver who fired multiple shots at a Uintah County sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop late Thursday.
The stop began as a suspicious-vehicle call about 9 p.m. on Old Red Wash Road about 10 miles south of Vernal, according to Uintah County undersheriff John Laursen. When the deputy approached the white sport-utility vehicle, he smelled the odor of alcohol coming from the driver, Laursen said.
The deputy asked the man to exit the SUV. Instead, he drove away.
The deputy followed the driver for a few miles before the man slowed and started to pull to the side of the road. That's when authorities say the man pulled a .223-caliber rifle and fired multiple times at the deputy.
"When (the deputy) saw the rifle, he ducked down and threw his truck in reverse," Laursen said. "That's probably what saved his life."
The deputy escaped injury even though three of the bullets punched through the windshield, ripped up the dashboard and then lodged in the headrest of the driver's seat in the patrol truck. The truck's back window was shattered out and one of its rear tires had come off the rim.
The driver of the SUV, identified as 66-year-old Dallas Rowley of Vernal, fled into the Bookcliffs after the shooting, Laursen said.
Sheriff's deputies from Uintah County and neighboring Rio Blanco and Moffat counties in Colorado were being assisted in the search for Rowley by law enforcement officers from Naples City, Vernal City, the state Division of Wildlife Resources, the Utah Highway Patrol, Dinosaur National Monument, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI.
The Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter arrived in the area about 1 a.m. to aid searchers on the ground.
The area being searched is extremely rugged and remote, crisscrossed by oil-field roads that stretch east into Colorado and south into Grand County, Utah.
Rowley was driving a white 1999 Chevy Suburban with Utah plates Z936PB. He is "extremely dangerous and unpredictable," Laursen said.
Anyone with information about Rowley is asked to call Central Dispatch at 435-789-4222.