Published November 17, 2014
Roy Fritts was firing an old-fashioned Colt .45 at a sheriff in his last run-in with the law while his girlfriend drove the car he was riding at 104 mph down an Oregon freeway.
Ten years and a long prison stint later, Fritts seemed to find himself in familiar circumstances Sunday. Authorities say he was on the lam again — this time speeding down a Utah interstate with a woman he met through a prison pen-pal program and married. She had been jailed for robbing a bank.
Lawmen were on their tail after a traveling companion in Wyoming said the 33-year-old Fritts shot him, leaving him bleeding on the side of the road.
Spike strips put down by the county sheriff blew out a tire on a van with Fritts inside, but he and his wife kept going on foot, running up to a house in the middle of nowhere and commandeering a vehicle from an elderly man in his driveway, said Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds.
That's where Fritts' second madcap getaway attempt stalled.
Neither one could drive a stick shift.
"It is a made-for-TV movie," said Glenda McDaniel, Fritts' parole officer back in La Grande, Ore. "I am not even kidding you."
Fritts was waving his gun in the air, trying to stop another car speeding past on the freeway, when six deputies with guns drawn surrounded the couple, Edmunds said. They were arrested and are now in the Summit County Jail in Park City, Utah.
"References have been made to Bonnie and Clyde and everything else," Edmunds said. "These two were definitely on a major crime spree in several states."
The capture came as a relief to Steve Oliver, retired sheriff of Union County, Ore.
He'd been carrying a gun ever since a prison guard tipped him off that Fritts was getting out on supervised release in June — 10 years after the lawman had a run-in that chilled him to the core.
It was May 2001, and Oliver was parked in the tiny town of North Powder, Ore., talking to a fisherman who had run into Fritts on a one-lane gravel road. Fritts had threatened to kill him if he didn't get out of the way.
A car roared by on the sidewalk; it was Fritts, driven by his girlfriend.
"I made a U-turn and went after him, called in a pursuit, and away we went," Oliver said.
When Oliver got close to the car, Fritts leaned out of the window and fired at him.
His girlfriend, Holly Ervin, who was pregnant, rolled the car, breaking Fritts' jaw. Oliver — who was 59 but still running five or six miles a day — grabbed a rifle and ran after them into an alfalfa field.
He caught up with Fritts and hit him in the back with the butt of his rifle, knocking him down. Other officers grabbed the woman, and took both away.
"I think the guy's a psychopath," Oliver said. "He has no remorse at all."
Fritts pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder, explaining his actions by claiming to be drunk, though authorities said a blood test did not bear that out.
It later came out that Fritts had broken out of jail in Tennessee to see his then-wife, but then met Ervin and headed west.
In the latest escape, he fled with a new wife — 35-year-old Jessica Shaner Fritts. She had been convicted of robbing a bank of $2,000 in La Grange in June 2001.
She and Fritts apparently met through a prison pen pal program, and were married while both were behind bars, McDaniel said. She came back to Union County and worked as a waitress and selling used cars before finishing her post-prison supervision.
When Fritts got out in June, the couple came into the parole office and said she had a job in Nevada selling time shares, McDaniel said. She wanted permission for Fritts to drive her there, where she worked two weeks on and two weeks off. Permission was granted.
Investigators are now looking into whether she actually was working at a brothel in Nevada, McDaniel said.
After eluding a state trooper over a stolen vehicle in Nebraska, the pair was traveling with 54-year-old Edmund Thornell of Costa Mesa, Calif., but got into some kind of dispute Sunday while camping at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in western Wyoming, the Sweetwater County, Wyo., sheriff's office said. Thornell was shot several times.
A family spotted him lying by the side of a dirt road south of Rock Springs, Wyo. When deputies talked to him in the hospital in Rock Springs, Thornell — who was later taken to a Utah hospital, where he's in critical condition — told authorities the couple had taken his van. Police spotted it near Evanston, Wyo., and chased them about 30 miles into Utah.
During the carjacking attempt at the home, a deputy trained as a sniper had Fritts in his sights, but didn't take the shot for fear of hitting the resident, Edmunds said.
"He is very fortunate to be alive," Edmunds said of Fritts. "If there hadn't been a victim in the vicinity, my deputies would have utilized deadly force on him."
Bob Moen contributed reporting from Cheyenne, Wyo.
Jeff Barnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JeffBarnardAP