After leading law enforcement on a chase at speeds up to 100 mph in three stolen vehicles, avoiding spike strips and four-wheeling through fields, an unidentified car thief was caught in the Tobacco Root Mountains west of Pony near dusk Thursday.
The man walked out of the forest and gave up just as law enforcement was about to pack it up for the night, Madison County Sheriff’s Communication Coordinator Steve DiGiovanna said.
“He didn’t say a word, he just walked out with his hands up,” he said. “Then we did a felony takedown.”
Law enforcement is not releasing the name until the man gets medical treatment at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, DiGiovanna said. The man had multiple lacerations sustained during high-speed chases and car crashes. So far, no charges have been file, but DiGiovanna said he expect a host of charges from multiple counties to filed in the coming days.
Aside from the culprit, no one was injured in the pursuit, DiGiovanna said.
“To have this all end without injury is incredible,” he said. “We are very, very grateful.”
The hunt for the car thief started around 8 a.m. Thursday morning south of Belgrade when someone called 911 to report a blue Chevy Silverado pickup was stolen from a business near Hulbert and Jackrabbit lanes. Law enforcement found the suspect on Rocky Mountain Road through technological tactics.
The man damaged the Chevy truck by veering off the road to elude law enforcement through a field and across a ravine. The suspect ditched the truck and stole a second vehicle, a white Ford Explorer, from a Sherman Road residence.
Gallatin County Undersheriff Dan Springer said the suspect entered the Sherman Road home. Springer didn’t know what the man took before he jumped in the second stolen vehicle.
From the north country, the suspect sped along East Frontage toward Belgrade. Deputies laid down a spike strip near Central Park Road to deter the driver, but the suspect went through a ditch to avoid hitting the strips.
“We attempted to spike his vehicle,” Springer said. “But he was able to avoid that.”
It was the third set of spike strips the driver eluded.
Near Bohlinger Lane, the suspect swerved off the road, over the railroad tracks and onto Interstate 90. The man crossed both lanes of interstate traffic emerging into fields near businesses off Thorpe Road before wrecking in a ditch near Art Castings of Montana. Once again, deputies chasing the suspect were unable to keep up with him.
“Ultimately the individual went off the road where the deputies couldn’t go,” Springer said. “Deputies can’t just bomb over the railroad tracks and the interstate.”
Law enforcement found the abandoned and wrecked vehicle around 9:30 a.m.
Multiple law enforcement agencies including sheriff’s deputies, Belgrade and Bozeman police and Montana Fish and Game wardens set up a perimeter spanning parts of Thorpe and Amsterdam roads.
Because there are so many feeder roads along Thorpe Lane, law enforcement had a hard time anticipating where the suspect would be coming from, officials said. They did not know whether he was on foot or hiding.
Police did have a rough description of who they were looking for, a man in his mid-20s with strawberry-blond hair wearing a black t-shirt and cutoff denim jeans.
Both sheriff’s K9 units were called in to try to pick up the suspect’s scent. Before the dogs found their man, a third person told law enforcement his truck was missing.
Matt Fry said he drove his GMC pickup to his friend’s construction business, just off Amsterdam Road. He parked his truck, left the keys inside and borrowed a four-wheeler to drive the short distance to his River Rock subdivision home.
After hearing from his wife about the legions of law enforcement vehicles flanking their neighborhood, Fry got on the four-wheeler to head back to his truck. Before he knew what was going on with the police, Fry said he had a feeling something was amiss.
“I got to the corner of Sibley and Thorpe and looked over and saw it was missing,” Fry said of his truck. “I knew right away. I knew it was stolen.”
Fry relayed the story of his missing truck to a nearby deputy. It was about 10:30 a.m.
The perimeter was disseminated and squad cars scattered after the hearing the report of a new stolen vehicle.
The sheriff’s office put out a county and statewide alert on Fry’s truck. Around 11:30 a.m. the Madison County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a Norris gas station.
According to the report, a white truck matching Fry’s was fueling up. When deputies arrived, the man was gone. A deputy sheriff located the truck about 15 miles south of Harrison on U.S. Hwy. 287.
After attempting to stop the vehicle, the thief led the deputy on a 98-mph chase past Harrison, through Pony and into the Tobacco Root Mountains.
Once again using off road tactics, the suspect left the dirt road and finally abandoned the truck when he could drive no further, officials said. When the deputy found the truck, the driver was gone.
Deputies from the Gallatin and Madison County Sheriffs Offices, highway troopers and K9 units searched through the day for the man on the lam.
DiGiovanna said 25 law enforcement officers combed through the mountains searching for the suspect.
According to law enforcement scanner reports, a prescription pill bottle potentially bearing the suspect’s name and articles of clothing were found in the first stolen vehicle.
Springer said law enforcement has yet to find a motive for the crime spree.