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Uintah County Sheriff's Office
A Uintah County sheriff's vehicle is riddled with bullet holes after a late night shooting in Vernal, Thursday, March 8, 2012.
That's not in his normal character and it's really got them stumped on why this would happen. —Uintah County Undersheriff John Laursen

VERNAL — A man who fired 19 rounds from a high-powered rifle at a Uintah County sheriff's deputy is a former firearms instructor and at one time worked as a trapper for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, investigators say.

"He's very proficient with firearms," said Uintah County Undersheriff John Laursen.

A massive search by several agencies continued Friday for Dallas Rowley, 66, of Vernal, who investigators said fired 19 shots from a .223-caliber rifle at a sheriff's deputy during a routine traffic check Thursday night.

Laursen said he counted at least six shots in the seat of the deputy's vehicle in addition to four bullet holes that both entered his front windshield and exited his back window. The shots 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 and one of its rear tires came off the rim.

Other bullets hit the engine compartment, disabling the truck.

The deputy was not injured. After the shooting started, he threw his patrol car into reverse and hit the gas pedal, Laursen said.

"Him taking (the) evasive action that he did saved his life," he said.

Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said the deputy's training took over and he was "lucky and blessed" not to be injured.

The incident began about 9 p.m. Thursday on Old Red Wash Road about 10 miles south of Vernal when the deputy came across a suspicious vehicle. As he approached, he detected an odor of alcohol, Laursen said.

The deputy asked Rowley to get out of the SUV. Instead, he drove off. Rowley drove four to five miles before he started to pull off to the side of the road and allegedly fired on the deputy.

Rowley positioned his vehicle so he could use the door frame to brace himself to take better aim, Laursen said.

The sheriff's office was not releasing the deputy's name, but said he worked for several years as an officer in the Uintah County Jail before being promoted to the patrol division five months ago. The deputy is married and has children, Laursen said.

"He's already called in wanting to go to work tonight, which is not going to happen, of course," the undersheriff said Friday.

Even though he didn't fire any shots, department policy requires that the deputy be placed on administrative leave until he is cleared for duty by a mental health professional, Laursen said. The department will also provide counseling for the deputy's family, he said.

Laursen had met Rowley before, and both he and the man's family say they are shocked by his actions.

"That's not in his normal character and it's really got them stumped on why this would happen," he said. "This is kind of a surprise with us."

Laursen said he doesn't believe Rowley was "in his right mind." And because of the man's proficiency with firearms and the strong belief he had multiple weapons in his vehicle — the deputy observed a .22-caliber pistol in the vehicle before being shot at — he is considered "extremely dangerous."

Dennis Rowley, Dallas Rowley's brother, said Friday he did not know what was going on and that when he talked to his brother a few days ago, he seemed fine.

"I just don't like this type of situation and I don't want anybody getting hurt," he said.

Dennis Rowley said at one time his brother was diagnosed as being bi-polar.

Dallas Rowley has a minor criminal history, according to Utah State Court records. In 2009 he pleaded guilty to DUI, a class B misdemeanor. He received a suspended jail sentence, was put on one year of probation and ordered to undergo counseling.

Also in 2009, he pleaded guilty in Uintah County Justice Court to possession of a dangerous weapon while under the influence of alcohol, a class B misdemeanor, and had a misdemeanor charge of possession of an open container in a vehicle dismissed. He was sentenced to 96 hours of home confinement, community service and counseling.

Friday's search focused on the southern part of Uintah County and the northern part of Grand County. The area is rugged and remote, crisscrossed by oil-field roads that stretch east into Colorado and south into Utah's Grand County.

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, Vernal, Rangely, the state Division of Wildlife Resources, the Utah Highway Patrol, Dinosaur National Monument, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI.

Dallas 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 not approach him, but rather call police at 435-789-4222.

E-mail: [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: GeoffLiesik, DNewsCrimeTeam