Motorcyclist found dead in Gorge was being pursued by police just prior to fatal crash

A Harley Davidson motorcycle is found down an embankment off of I-15 near mile marker 24, Mohave County, Ariz., March 6, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire District, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The motorcyclist whose body was found in a ravine in the Virgin River Gorge had been pursued by police Saturday from Hurricane to Arizona before the pursuit was called off just seconds before he apparently ran off Interstate 15 to his death about 100 feet below.

Investigators identified him Friday as Joseph Gary Scelza, according to a statement from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

The incident began when Washington City Police were dispatched on a report of a white male who was attempting to steal items from Zion Harley Davidson and was seen leaving the store riding a purple Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Officers located the suspect at the Hurricane Walmart, but before they could make contact he “fled on the motorcycle nearly striking one of the officers,” the statement said.

Officers from Hurricane and Washington City pursued the motorcycle northbound on Old Highway 91 at speeds reportedly in excess of 100 mph in wet conditions, prompting officers to terminate the pursuit near Leeds.

Shortly after 4:15 p.m., a citizen called 911 reporting that the motorcycle was heading southbound on Interstate 15. Washington City Police attempted to stop the bike near mile marker 13 but were unsuccessful. Deputies with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office initiated their pursuit once the bike left the city limits.

During the chase, Scelza reached speeds of approximately 115 mph while weaving in and out of traffic as deputies continued to pursue the bike “through light traffic as the rider slowed to around 80 mph,” Lt. David Crouse said in the statement.

Scelza started recklessly varying the speed during the chase as he threw a backpack and the helmet he was wearing at pursuing officers.

Arizona and Nevada law enforcement officials were advised of the pursuit that continued south into the Virgin River Gorge, where police say Scelza began to ride more aggressively, taunting the pursuing officers with hand gestures. He also was observed riding a wheelie through the pursuit.

Based on the weather conditions and the rider’s behavior, the pursuit was deemed too dangerous to continue and deputies reportedly terminated the pursuit.

On Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Public Safety was advised of a motorcycle accident in the Virgin River Gorge after two men hiking below I-15 near mile marker 24 found the motorcycle and Scelza’s body about 100 feet below the highway.

Read more: Tourists discover body of motorcyclist in steep ravine in the Gorge

Investigators in Washington County thought the victim “was possibly the individual involved in the police pursuit on the prior Saturday,” Crouse said in Friday’s statement.

Following an autopsy and notification of next of kin, Scelza’s identity was confirmed and officials determined that he was the same individual involved in the criminal investigations and police pursuits that originated in Washington County.

After reviewing video footage of the pursuit that entered the Virgin River Gorge, Washington County Sheriff’s Office administration determined “the deputies had terminated their pursuit of the suspect approximately .6 miles prior to him being involved in the traffic collision.”

Deputies had no reason to suspect that the rider was involved in a traffic incident during the pursuit, as they believed the rider reached the Nevada state line after receiving a report that was later determined to be inaccurate.

 The collision took place on a bend in the roadway, outside of the deputies’ field of vision, information which could only be detected by viewing the dashcam footage after markings were placed at the scene during the ensuing accident investigation conducted by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The investigation is ongoing.

This report is based on statements from police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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