Radio traffic from chaotic rampage
911 call: 'I've just been shot at'
NEPHI — Juab County Sheriff Alden Orme revealed more details Friday about the chaotic rampage through his county by two people involved in killing a deputy and wounding another in a desperate attempt to escape.
A climatic gun battle on I-15 brought it all to an end two weeks ago on Jan. 30.
"You couldn't create a more stressful situation," Orme said.
The sheriff made his comments as Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge announced that the actions of four deputies involved in the shootout were legally justified and they've been cleared to return to work. The deputies shot Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, 27, during the gun battle, and he died the next day.
Investigators say Garcia-Juaregui shot and killed Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride in Eagle Mountain and injured sheriff's deputy Greg Sherwood in a second shooting the same afternoon. During the ensuing chase that was spread out over 50 miles through two counties, investigators believe Garcia-Juaregui fired at least 10 times at four different locations — including firing at random motorists — as a 17-year-old girl drove.
Garcia-Juaregui also carjacked a woman and her young daughter.
The deputies' actions in stopping and killing the gunman were described as couragous and heroic, but Eldridge refused to identify the deputies because he said he wanted to protect them.
Investigators, however, did release 911 calls, police radio recordings and dash-cam video from the deputies' vehicles from the Jan. 30 incident.
The videos before the final shootout show deputies pursuing Garcia-Juaregui and the teenage driver through a heavy snowstorm south on I-15 just past Exit 222 south of Nephi. Not long after the fleeing vehicle's tires were spiked by Utah Highway Patrol troopers, the stolen SUV crossed through the median and drove into oncoming traffic. The driver then appears to intentionally hit an oncoming minivan.
As soon as the minivan was hit, Garcia-Juaregui jumped out and made "a dead sprint to that vehicle," Orme said, in an attempt to steal it. Deputies yelled at the motorist to keep driving as they ran toward the suspect, knowing he had already shot two officers.
Eldridge called the video "hair-raising."
"These men (deputies) did not hesitate even for an instant. They got out of their vehicles, they charged right into the face of danger. This man was pointing a gun at them and shooting, without even hesitation," he said.
"They did exactly what we would hope officers would do in this situation. They demonstrated extraordinary valor and courage. I take my hat off to them. As I watch these videos, all I can say is that I'm awestruck at the courage they showed."
Orme concurred: "You can see from the dash-cam footage there was no hesitation. They knew they had to take the steps they needed to take to prevent further injury to anyone. It is such a dynamic situation with citizens' lives at risk.
"Heavy traffic, heavy snowstorm. They know the risks. They know that there's shots fired. And every one of them advanced and did what they needed to bring an end to the situation," the sheriff said of his deputies.
Further complicating the situation, Orme said, Garcia-Juaregui was running away from the officers on a downhill section of the freeway. So when the officers fired, they could only see the upper portion of his body.
From the time of the crash until Garcia-Juaregui was taken into custody, only a minute to 90 seconds had passed.
The four unidentified deputies, armed with three AR-15 rifles and a shotgun, fired a total of seven shots. One of the rounds struck Garcia-Juaregui in the head. Eldridge revealed Friday that the bullet did not penetrate the gunman's skull, but it did cause brain swelling that ultimately killed him. The cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma from the bullet, he said.
Eldridge did not talk Friday about any toxicology results from the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office or whether Garcia-Juaregui was drunk or under the influence od rugs during the incident.
For the type of situation they were in, the county attorney believes, the deputies should be commended for firing only seven rounds.
"In my mind these deputies exercised great restraint as they engaged this suspect. They were very careful about passing traffic. They only took shots when they had clear shots. And they took the number of shots that were necessarily. They weren't overboard. They were very professional," he said.
Even when Garcia-Juaregui was on the ground, he continued to clutch his handgun — which deputies had to pry out of his hands — and continued to reach to his waistband, Eldridge said. When deputies got to him, his handgun and an extra magazine found in his waistband were both empty. Eldridge said the suspect made two statements to deputies while he was taken into custody, but he declined to disclose those on Friday, saying that that information "may come into play in other arenas."
Based on the gunman's actions, and how he continued to try and resist arrest even after being shot in the head, Eldridge believes the deputies took the appropriate action.
"It doesn't appear from the facts that this case was going to end any other way," he said.
The 17-year-old driver lay down on the ground and did not resist arrest and was not injured in the shootout. She remained in custody Friday in a juvenile detention facility in Provo. Her identity has not been released, and investigators have not described her relationship with Garcia-Juaregui.
Prosecutors asked a judge last week for a three-week extension to hold the girl as they gather evidence and consider whether to charge her as an adult. Investigators have not yet said how active of a role they believe she played in the incident or whether she was being forced to do what Garcia-Juaregui told her.
Eldridge declined to speak about the girl Friday, but he noted that with the investigation into the shooting now complete, there could be "movement in the next few days" regarding her case.
In the third shootout, the fleeing suspects were observed firing again at officers and a passing semitrailer truck. The chase entered downtown Nephi just as parent-teacher conferences were happening at a school. The gunman fired at several passing motorists in an attempt to carjack a vehicle after his pickup truck's tires were spiked and they crashed, Eldridge said. He eventually pulled a mother who was just returning from a parent-teacher conference out of her SUV.
"The woman appeared frantic and was screaming as she desperately tried to remove her child from the rear passenger seat as the vehicle was moving forward," Eldridge wrote in his report.
He said the woman "barely" got her child out before the suspects sped away again in her SUV.
Orme praised not only his officers, but also the lone Juab County dispatcher who was working that day and juggling hundreds of 911 calls while also monitoring the chase under extremely stressful conditions.
"I guarantee you that tensions were high, but they maintained a professional demeanor," Orme said. "I just think they acted above and beyond the call of duty, because it was chaotic."
"I've just been shot at," one 911 caller told the dispatcher. "The guy tried to jump in my car and I accelerated away from him and he took a shot at me."
"They won't stop," a deputy tells another on the police radio, informing him that the suspects were just involved in two shootings in Utah County.
Later, a deputy can be heard on the police radio, while still remaining calm: "We're 10-82. Suspect has been shot."
Three of the deputies involved in the shootout were veterans of the Juab County Sheriff's Office and one is relatively new to the department, Orme said. But when he told them they were cleared to return to work, he also told them they are all heroes.
"Every officer that was involved with this, every highway patrolman, every Nephi City officer, every Juab County officer, to me acted beyond and above the call of duty," he said. "It was extraordinary the efforts that everybody portrayed on this day. It's with gratitude that we accept this letter of clearance."
Eldridge would only identify the officers by their badge numbers.
"Those officers don't take lightly the fact that on (Jan. 30) they had to take a human life. They take that seriously. They don't take any great pleasure in the fact they had to do that," he said.
When talking about his men, the sheriff became choked up in expressing the gratitude he had for each of them.
"I'm very proud of them," he said.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam