MOAB, Utah – The search for a gunman accused of critically wounding a Utah park ranger stretched into a second day Sunday as helicopter and boat crews combed a rugged Utah canyon and law officers broadened their pursuit to include a railroad line.
The Grand County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that more than 160 officers from around the state were searching an area near the Colorado River southwest of Moab, an area famous for red rock canyons and natural arch formations.
The search near Dead Horse State Park began after Utah State Parks Ranger Brody Young, 34, of Moab, was shot three times Friday night while patrolling the popular Poison Spider Mesa Trail, authorities said.
The search area on Sunday consisted of 15 square miles of rugged terrain that authorities say has likely given the gunman the "upper hand" in avoiding capture, Grand County Sheriff James Nyland said. Three helicopters were included in the search Sunday and authorities were also searching freight cars along an area railroad line.
"He pretty much knows where we are at all times because of the number of people we have," Nyland said at a press conference.
On Saturday, authorities tracked the man's footprints in a canyon along the Colorado River, recovering his rifle, backpack and a tattered, bloody T-shirt. However, Nyland said authorities still believe the man is armed, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The backpack contained canned goods and an empty gun holster believed to hold a .40-caliber handgun, according to the newspaper.
"We consider this individual armed and dangerous. As we're tracking him we have to keep that in mind — the security of the trackers — and we're having to move pretty slow," Nyland said.
Authorities found a new set of footprints they were tracking on Sunday before sunset.
Young stopped a vehicle at the trailhead, and gunfire was exchanged between him and the driver, said parks spokeswoman Deena Loyola. It was not clear what sparked the violence, and Nyland said authorities have not yet been able to interview Young.
Nyland had told The Associated Press that the ranger had been shot in the arm, leg and the stomach area, and he underwent surgery at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction. The hospital declined to comment.
Loyola said in a statement Sunday Young remained in critical condition.
Authorities planned on searching the suspect's silver Pontiac Grand Am on Sunday. Police have not released the suspect's name, but Nyland told reporters at a news conference Sunday that the man's previous criminal history involved only misdemeanor traffic warrants, according to KSTU-TV.
Family members were stunned by the shooting, saying Young has faced tense work situations but never alone. His family says he is a friendly, outgoing ranger.
Young and his wife, Wendy, have three children. The couple are outdoor enthusiasts who once worked as river guides in the Moab area.
Loyola said Young, who has been a ranger for more than four years, was speaking to medics and at the hospital.
The Poison Spider Mesa trail to the south of Moab is among Utah's best-known biking runs with enthusiasts calling it an especially challenging but scenic loop that rises more than 1,000 feet into the surrounding countryside.