WENDOVER — Two people were arrested Sunday — for a second time — after police say they stole a Utah Highway Patrol vehicle while still in handcuffs from another arrest for stealing and crashing a different car.
Police used a helicopter to locate the suspects after the couple fled into the west desert's Salt Flats, where there are few places to hide, said UHP trooper Evan Kirby.
Police identified the suspects as Tommy Rodriquez, 28, of West Valley City, and Brady Willes, 32, of Kearns.
The two fled in the trooper's patrol car after apparently maneuvering their handcuffs from behind their backs and then jumping into the driver's seat. Kirby said the trooper was able to follow them thanks to the help of some "good Samaritans."
The bizarre incident began about 9:30 a.m. about 19 miles east of Wendover when the UHP was called out to a report of an accident, where a car had over-corrected from drifting into the left side of the road.
When a trooper arrived, he found a Mazda rolled over and some passersby in a pickup truck who had stopped to help.
"The people involved in the crash were loading their personal belongings into the back of the truck and they had told the people that had stopped they would not like police to be contacted and were trying to get a ride back to Wendover," Kirby said.
The trooper then "found out pretty quick" by checking the license plate that the rolled Mazda had been stolen, Kirby said, and the man and woman were handcuffed and taken into custody.
The trooper placed the man in the back "cage" of the patrol vehicle, but because there was only room for one, he put the woman in the front passenger seat. Both of their hands were cuffed behind their backs.
The trooper then went to retrieve their personal belongings and conduct inventory.
"But when he turned around, he saw the suspects had taken his car and were driving towards Salt Lake City on I-80," Kirby said.
The passersby then offered to let the trooper take their truck so he could chase after his patrol car.
"They were really just being good Samaritans. … They stepped up and were willing to let the officer take their car," Kirby said. "All in all, they were good people that were just out to help anybody."
Shortly after the trooper caught up with the couple — about five miles down the road — Kirby said they pulled over, abandoned the car and fled into the desert.
The trooper stopped pursuing them when he lost sight of them as they ran over some raised train tracks, but he called for assistance.
A Utah County sheriff's search and rescue helicopter was already flying about 10 minutes away on a different call, Kirby said, and was able to respond quickly. Not long after, the pilot spotted the two — still handcuffed — in the desert.
When police arrived, the pair was placed back into custody. The man appeared to be suffering from a medical condition — perhaps "pre-existing or drug-related," Kirby said — and he was transported by ambulance to a Tooele hospital.
The woman was also taken to the hospital as a precaution.
"Whenever we have these foot pursuits out here in the west desert, in the Salt Flats, they often end in medical situations," Kirby said. "Anyone who is familiar with the Salt Flats knows there is absolutely nothing out here but miles and miles of salt."