Midnight pursuit leads to pickup crashing down hill above St. George; driver remains at-large

ST. GEORGE — A member of a tow truck crew said “the police called in a tough one for us” as he came upon an older model Ford F-150 pickup truck wedged at the bottom of the hill above the industrial area of River Road, one mile south of Brigham Road.

A Ford pickup rests in a ravine after its driver fled from deputies overnight, St. George, Utah, Aug. 5, 2022 | Photo courtesy of SG3 Towing and Recovery , St. George News

The truck had come to rest in a wildland area strewn with dry weeds and trash, away from civilization after a high-speed pursuit Thursday night involving Washington County Sherrif’s deputies.

The incident occurred between 11 p.m. and midnight, and police said the pickup zoomed through residential neighborhoods in Hidden Valley. Early Friday morning, the unusual sight of the hill marked by tire tracks and the truck still were visible from River Road.   

The pursuit started on northbound Interstate 15 between the Brigham Road and Dixie Drive off-ramps after deputies said they pulled over the driver for canceled license plates. The driver fled, and the pursuit went off the freeway at Dixie Drive, then headed east on Brigham Road, then south on Hidden Valley Road.

At one point, according to deputies, the vehicle was travelling on the wrong side of Brigham Road on the sidewalk.

The pursuit was terminated, deputies said, after the vehicle turned on to Athens Drive from Hidden Valley, then ran off the end of the road into the hilly, desert terrain above the area that includes residences, Hidden Valley Park and Desert Hills High School. 

“Once it was on the neighborhood streets, we lost sight after it jumped a curve into the desert, so we terminated pursuit at that point,” Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Joel Hafoka told St. George News.  

After the pursuit, the Utah Department of Public Safety’s new Southern Utah helicopter, which arrived just a month ago, was pressed into its first non-rescue service locally, shining its bright floodlight in the midnight hour through the area while looking for the vehicle and its sole passenger, a male driver wearing a blue bandana.

The vehicle would be found, but the suspect would not be after a search that drew the attention of Hidden Valley neighbors. 

“When we found it, the suspect was no longer there,” Hafoka said. “There was no evidence of an accident or person there.” 

As seen from River Road, tracks lead from the top of a hill to a pickup that ended up in a ravine after its driver fled from deputies overnight, St. George, Utah, Aug. 5, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Hafoka said there was “no danger to the public” but deputies still are looking for the driver. 

Neighborhood Facebook groups were flooded with messages from residents with comments like, “What was with the helicopter over the upper neighborhood spot lighting last night?” and “Big search going on.”

After the vehicle was found seven-tenths of a mile from where it went off Athens Drive on the other side of the hill above Hidden Valley, Washington City’s SG3 Towing and Recovery was called out by the sheriff to retrieve the vehicle. Because of the darkness, they had to wait until the morning to recover it.

The truck was nestled in a ditch near a dirt, off-road trail on empty, hilly terrain owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). The area was strewn with a river of discarded tires, furniture, ovens, remnants of July fireworks and an infection of Corona bottles.

Tracks could be seen running down the top of the hill leading to the truck. 

Map shows location where a pickup being pursued by the Washington County Sheriff late on Aug. 4, 2022, went off the road into the desert hills and a graphic in the middle for where the truck ended up | Crash graphic by iStock/Getty Images Plus, map courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News | Click to enlarge

With the rain from a brief monsoon coming down just before 9 a.m. Friday morning, the tow truck operators set out of the tough task of dragging the vehicle. Recent rains helped by loosening the dirt around it. 

Also noticeable was the lack of a functioning seat belt, yet there was no damage inside the cab to indicate a person crashed into the steering wheel and the windshield had no cracks. The only evidence of any damage on the truck was the roof seemed slightly caved in.

The tow operators said they were told by deputies the vehicle appeared to be unoccupied and was set in neutral before beingly likely pushed from the top of the hill. Hafoka confirmed the vehicle was unoccupied when found and there was no evidence of anyone being injured but added deputies are still investigating the exact circumstances of how the vehicle went from the bottom of one side of a hill to the bottom of the other side. 

With a suspect still not found and a full examination of the vehicle still remaining, Hafoka said it’s unclear why the driver fled. However, he added vehicles with switched out and/or canceled plates transporting narcotics up and down the 15 is normal for the area.

“That is a trend or common thing for suspects to do,” Hafoka said. “They quickly swap plates.”

At first, the operators tried to pull the vehicle with a chain attached to an off-road jeep. This got the pickup out enough that they were able to bring a flatbed truck to finish the transport off the dirt trails out of the area by around 10:15 a.m.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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