MUSTANG, Nev. – Two state troopers searching a car during a traffic stop on Interstate 80 in northern Nevada somehow allowed a passenger to make off with one of their cruisers and use a patrol shotgun to carjack another vehicle before leading them on a chase that ended with the suspect's alleged suicide.
The Washoe County sheriff's office confirmed two Nevada Highway Patrol troopers were put on paid leave Tuesday while deputies investigate the bizarre chain of events that began Monday afternoon and ended about 30 miles east of Reno.
Deputies said in a statement that the two troopers in separate cars pulled over a 2013 Ford Explorer near the exit for Mustang just east of Sparks, but that during the stop, one passenger left the SUV and jumped in the cruiser.
"It was a very bold act," trooper Chuck Allen said Tuesday.
Other law enforcement officials started chasing the stolen vehicle, and eventually shot out its tires, patrol officials said.
But when the suspect left the patrol vehicle, he took the trooper's shotgun and carjacked a 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix, troopers said.
Marie Coates of Fernley, who was driving the Pontiac, wasn't harmed. She told KOLO-TV in Reno she was headed eastbound on I-80 when the stolen trooper's car merged onto the highway and nearly hit her. She came upon the disabled cruiser blocking the highway and a man got out and talked to a woman in another car who drove off before he approached Coates.
"That's when I noticed the gun," Coates said, looking out her rearview mirror. She said he walked up to her and fired shots above her car. "He started screaming at me, 'Get out of the car, I'm not kidding.'"
The suspect then took off in the Pontiac, attempted to pass a semitrailer and crashed the vehicle, according to NHP.
Authorities said the man got out of the wrecked vehicle and started shooting the trooper's gun in the air before shooting himself several times in the roadway, NHP said. He died at the scene.
Allen said the investigation has been handed over to the Washoe County Sheriff's Office. He referred questions to the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office declined to specify the troopers' role in the incident or say whether either fired a weapon. Neither was hurt.
"The rest of the information is part of an on-going active investigation and will not be released until its conclusion," Deputy Armando Avina said in an email to The Associated Press.
Authorities have not identified the suspect or a female passenger in the vehicle that was originally pulled over. They identified two other people in the SUV as Manuel Alejandro Rodriguez, 29, and Christian M. Magllano Alzpurua, 23, both of Jacksonville, Fla.
Both men have been booked in the Washoe County Detention Center on suspicion of selling a controlled substance, possessing a controlled substance for sale and conspiracy to violate a uniform controlled substance act. Bail was set at $150,000 for each man.
"We are trained for a lot of things. A lot of scenarios come our way," Allen told KRNV-TV. "But you don't expect a person to either open a car door and run to your vehicle and get in, or to distract you so someone else can do that," he said.
No details were released on how the suspect was able to move from the SUV to the patrol cruiser.
Rindels reported from Las Vegas.