An off-duty police officer swung his pickup truck between a fast-moving stolen car and a woman jogger on Saturday, causing a collision that police say likely saved the woman's life and ended the driver's days-long crime spree.
The crash on a narrow bridge in a Holladay neighborhood also ended a 40-plus minute hunt for the driver by police that began in Little Cottonwood Canyon and crossed through several Salt Lake County communitiesat speeds exceeding 100 mph, Unified Police Department Lt. Justin Hoyal said.
Police began looking for the 26-year-old driver about 10 a.m. Saturday, after staff at Snowbird called authorities because the man had tried to use an invalid credit card to pay for an overnight stay at the resort.
A UPD officer saw the vehicle race down the winding Little Cottonwood Canyon road, but didn't give chase for safety reasons, Hoyal said. He alerted other officers to watch for the Mercedes, which had been reported stolen on Wednesday by a Millcreek-area auto dealership.
In Holladay, off-duty UPD officerJim Karahalios,in his own pickup, stopped in the 2100 East block of Fardown Avenue (about 6000 South) to flag down a jogger and warn her that police were searching for a reckless driver in the area.
As the pair talked, the Mercedes came charging around a curve in their direction, Hoyal said.
"They hear the roar of the engine and when he comes into view, [the driver] is going so fast that he's fishtailing," Hoyal said. "That's when the officer does the only thing he can do, which is pull his truck across the road."
Jogger Sheila Wall said the Karahalios gunned his engine, putting himself and his red truck between her and the speeding Mercedes, essentially causing a collision. Wall said she was standing just about 15 from the crash site.
"He just didn't even hesitate," said the 55-year-old, who typically runs along Fardown Avenue a few mornings each week. "It's the most amazing thing."
The truck and the Mercedes collided with so much force that Wall said she thought the car might come up over the pickup and land on her. Instead it spun around and landed in a canal ditch, she said. Karahalios then got out of his vehicle and approached the Mercedes with his gun drawn, while he yelled at Wall to lie on the pavement. When the driver of the Mercedes climbed out of the passenger side door and took off through the canal, Karahalios gave chase, she said.
Wall said she stood and watched the two men run into the brush as police cars began to descend on the street.
"It was chaos," said Wall adding that her "legs felt like Jell-O" and her heart was beating out of her chest.
Officers chased the driver a short distance on foot and used a Taser to subdue him. The suspect was later booked into the Salt Lake County jail on Saturday night on suspicion of a combined eight misdemeanor and felony charges.
According to Hoyal, multiple police agencies have also been looking for the man for other suspected crimes since the Wednesday car theft.
Wall said she initially didn't realize that Karahalios was trying to help her when he pulled up behind her as she ran. In fact, Wall said she didn't really begin to comprehend all that had happened until she was jogging home from the crash site.
"I thought he was just a jerk," Wall said. "Now that I know what happened, it's amazing that he saw me on the side of the road and is thinking, 'She's going to get hurt.' He put himself in harms way for me. ... I would not be here if he hadn't done that."