Kachina Village resident Mitch Mohler and his son, Mitchell Jr., had split the cost of buying a fully restored 1980 Corvette Stingray.
The younger Mitchell, not yet 16, had shoveled snow and worked other odd jobs to come up with several thousand dollars for his first car, the elder Mohler said.
They paid $12,900 for the beauty and had recently brought it home from Yuma on a trailer.
"He was so proud driving the car for the first time," Mohler said, adding that the family took the Corvette and two other cars to the Route 66 Days vintage car show downtown Saturday.
Now, the Corvette is destroyed and a man is behind bars, accused of stealing and destroying the vehicle and injuring two pedestrians in the process.
The elder Mohler said he's upset the Flagstaff Police Department didn't do more in stopping the runaway thief.
"It's just devastating to our family, and to think of the poor people who got run over," Mohler said. "I feel so sad for their families."
According to Flagstaff police reports, officers were notified of a vehicle theft just after 3 p.m. As officers converged on the scene, one officer spotted the fleeing Corvette but was too far away to get close to the vehicle.
After the officer gave the Corvette's direction of travel on East Route 66, another officer spotted the vehicle go by at Switzer Canyon Road, according to police reports. Heavy traffic prevented the officer from being able to make a traffic stop. In addition, the Corvette was speeding down East Route 66, and to prevent the situation from becoming more dangerous, a police unit in pursuit shut off lights and siren, per the department's pursuit policy.
Just down the road, at the old Nissan-Subaru dealership, the person driving the stolen Corvette lost control, collided with two pedestrians and hit a retaining wall at the dealership.
The car burst into flames, and police had to pull the driver out of the Corvette and attend to the two injured pedestrians, according to police reports. A Flagstaff Fire Department unit put out the flames.
The two pedestrians were taken to Flagstaff Medical Center for treatment. According to police, both are expected to recover from their injuries.
The suspect, Michael A. Burwell, 43, was booked into the county jail on charges stemming from stealing the vehicle and hitting the pedestrians, according to police reports.
KEYS STOLEN FROM HAUL VEHICLE
Mohler said that he, his wife and son had walked away from their display for a short period of time. But prior to that, they had seen a person hanging around their vehicles. There are even pictures of the man looking at the vehicles.
As he and his wife returned, Mohler noticed a cone he had put in front of one of his vehicles out of place. He went to put it back and noticed the front quarter panel had been damaged. He looked over to see the Corvette missing.
"Meanwhile, there were people saying they were hollering at this guy banging to get the Corvette out," he said, adding that the suspect must have gone into their vehicle hauler and taken all the keys until he found ones for the Corvette.
Mohler said that he is upset the police did not do more to stop the person who stole his son's Corvette. He suggested they could have boxed in the driver before he could do the damage he did.
"I think there had to have been a better way to handle it," Mohler said. "There are ways to stop these people."
He continued, "What if this had cost somebody their life?"
NO UNNECESSARY ENDANGERMENT
According to the Flagstaff Police Department's pursuit policy: "The objective of a motor vehicle pursuit is to maintain police contact with a fleeing driver without unnecessary endangerment of life and property until that individual can be apprehended. All officers and supervisors involved in a vehicle pursuit must be prepared to justify their actions. Officers and supervisors shall constantly evaluate the circumstances surrounding a pursuit; they shall terminate the pursuit when appropriate.
"It is the policy of the department that a motor vehicle pursuit is justified only when the violator represents an ongoing danger to the public, and the necessity of immediate apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit ... The primary concern in pursuit situations is the protection of all citizens and officers. Pursuit driving does not relieve an officer from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor does it offer the officer immunity from violations of criminal or civil litigation."
As for the Corvette, Mohler said, "We had yet to take it to the insurance company to get full coverage on it."
They still had to take pictures of the vehicle prior to it being fully covered.
He added, "It's destroyed. There's nothing we can do about that."
His son cried at hearing the news, Mohler said.
"It's a classic car," Mohler said. "I don't know what to say. I'm at a loss."
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.