UINTA COUNTY — A local Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper was LifeFlighted early Thursday morning after his vehicle rolled several times and landed in a ravine off Highway 189 in Uinta County.
Trooper Austin Bluemel is still in a Utah hospital with head injuries, but WHP Lt. Matt Arnell said Bluemel is expected to recover.
Walter Allen Hill of Fruit Heights, Utah, is in custody after Arnell said the suspect led law enforcement on a high-speed chase that lasted about 35 minutes, followed by a three-hour standoff in the hills east of the road to Kemmerer.
Uinta County-based troopers Bluemel, Remmington Roberts and Brad White, and Lt. Matt Arnell were involved with the incident, along with troopers from the Rock Springs, Pinedale and Jackson divisions. The WHP Special Services Squad was also involved in the incident.
Over the course of the pursuit, Arnell requested help from surrounding law enforcement agencies. He said police officers from Evanston, Kemmerer, Diamondville and Cokeville were on scene, and sheriff’s deputies from Uinta, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties also arrived to help, along with the Sweetwater County SWAT unit.
Arnell said the incident began at 10:10 p.m., when Trooper Roberts was parked at Exit 18 on Interstate 80 and observed a red Dodge pickup get off eastbound I-80, running the off-ramp stop sign as it turned north onto Hwy. 189. Roberts caught up with the pickup at mile post 1 and activated his vehicle’s emergency lights, signaling the driver of the Dodge to pull over.
Arnell said the pickup didn’t have its headlights or taillights on, and its brake lights weren’t working, though there was a light bar on the front of his vehicle that was turned on. Hill didn’t pull over, Arnell said, and instead sped up, reaching a top speed of 112 mph. Trooper White then joined the pursuit and WHP requested assistance from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, which made a failed attempt at mile post 25 to spike the pickup’s tires; Arnell said the driver was able to steer around the spike strips.
By then, the suspect had turned off the light strip on his pickup, Arnell said, making the chase even more hazardous.
“He was an extreme danger to the motoring public at that point,” Lt. Arnell said, adding that the pickup was swerving in and out of the northbound lane, risking head-on collisions with southbound traffic.
Kemmerer police then set up more spike strips at mile post 33, just south of Kemmerer.
“As this was going on I got called from my house,” Arnell said, “and Trooper Bluemel was heading in pursuit northbound, but the [the pickup] turned around.”
Arnell said that as Hill approached the spike strips, he made a U-turn and began driving south on Hwy. 189. Bluemel successfully spiked some of the pickup’s tires at mile post 26, slowing the vehicle down to about 55 mph. The pickup, however, was still “blacked out,” Arnell said.
Bluemel approached the pickup and was going to attempt a pursuit intervention technique (PIT) maneuver, in an attempt to stop Hill. But as Bluemel approached the blacked-out vehicle, he steered to the right, where his vehicle hit a paved driveway access, launching the car, which rolled several times and into a ravine, Arnell said.
Trooper White stopped to help Bluemel and Roberts kept pursuing Hill. Arnell was able to successfully spike the pickup’s remaining tires at mile post 17, and by mile post 16, Hill had driven off the east side of the road.
“He exited the vehicle,” Arnell said. “Troopers and deputies exited, and the suspect had a gun. He pointed it at officers and was told multiple times to put it down and didn’t.”
Then, Arnell said, Hill turned and ran, hopping a right-of-way fence and running into the foothills east of the highway. By that time, it was 10:45 p.m., and enough law enforcement had responded to close the highway, setup barriers to keep Hill from returning to the road and set up lights in the area to prevent Hill from escaping.
Meantime, Arnell said he went back to check on Bluemel, who was initially unconscious and trapped in his vehicle. LifeFlight was called and Bluemel was extricated.
“As he was loaded in LifeFlight, he was talking to me and conscious,” Arnell said.
Back at the scene in the foothills, Arnell said Hill fired four shots, later claiming that they were in the air and at the ground.
Uinta County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Randy Chandler was able to talk Hill back down to the fence line, Arnell said, but Hill was still carrying a pistol.
“He took the magazine out of the gun,” Arnell said, “and tried to put the gun on the fencepost, but it fell to the ground.”
Hill then climbed the fence and allegedly refused several orders to stay on the ground.
“He was making comments like ‘just shoot me, just shoot me,’” Arnell said. The suspect then reached down and grabbed his gun, and officers deployed four bean-bag rounds, one of which struck Hill.
“At that time,” Arnell said, “the Sweetwater County tactical team approached him and took him down to the ground.”
Arnell said Hill was examined by an ambulance crew before troopers took him to Evanston Regional Hospital and eventually to jail. He was arrested around 2 a.m. on suspicion of aggravated assault, DUI, reckless driving, eluding, felony interference and multiple traffic violations.
Arnell said Trooper Bluemel is recovering from head injuries in a Utah hospital. He expressed thanks to neighboring law enforcement.
“WHP would like to thank all participating agencies for their assistance,” he said.