Update 8:50 p.m.: Due to the lane closures as a result of the investigation, I-40 Eastbound traffic is being diverted off at milepost 204.
A 35-year-old man allegedly drove his semi-truck across the median and traveled the wrong way on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 40 outside of Flagstaff endangering the lives of motorists, Arizona Department of Public Safety officials report.
Authorities allege a trooper fired at the driver and his semi-truck while the vehicle was traveling westbound on the eastbound lane Friday morning. The driver was taken to the hospital for injuries and is expected to survive his wounds. Authorities said the driver is also suspected of throwing a package of suspected drugs out the window of his vehicle into the median.
Bart Graves, spokesman for DPS, said there were still many unconfirmed details, but said there were no other reported injuries.
The department would not release the name of the suspect on Friday afternoon because he is being treated as a patient at the nearby Flagstaff Medical Center.
“This gentleman dictated the course of the events from the moment he jumped in the vehicle and fled the inspection,” Graves said. “By his driving behavior, he showed no regard for anyone else on the road.”
As of press time, eastbound traffic on the interstate leaving Flagstaff experienced delays of approximately 40 minutes between the Country Club and Walnut Canyon Road exits. Graves said they were hoping to open the lanes before Saturday, but did not have an official time set to reopen them.
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The incident began at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Friday morning, when a trooper, certified to inspect semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles, saw a red semi-truck with a white trailer driving eastbound on the I-40.
Before the officer could begin an inspection on the truck, the driver allegedly exited the highway at the Walnut Canyon National Monument.
The truck later drove back onto the highway heading eastbound, but with a different driver allegedly behind the wheel. The DPS trooper found the behavior suspicious and stopped the vehicle that was carrying mostly produce, Graves said.
After beginning an inspection, a civilian driving by allegedly indicated to the trooper that the truck driver threw an unknown package into the median. Graves could not confirm the chain of events, but at some point during the inspection, the second driver allegedly jumped behind the wheel of the semi-truck and fled the inspection, driving down the interstate, Graves said.
The trooper entered his car to follow him. Throughout the course of the pursuit, the driver allegedly crossed the median and drove the wrong way on both the westbound and eastbound lanes. Graves could not say how many times the driver allegedly crossed over the median or drove in the wrong direction.
Graves said the trooper feared the possibility of the 18-wheel semi-truck slamming into oncoming traffic and made the decision to fire his weapon at the truck and driver.
“You have an 18-wheeler, rolling down the road going the wrong way. These trucks may weigh several tons,” Graves said. “That could have been an absolute disaster, a huge loss of life if he struck another vehicle, or vehicles, or another semi.”
Graves said he did not know how many times the trooper fired his weapon, and was waiting for more information from the investigation.
Investigators on-scene found the package and are testing the substance to determine its contents.
Scott Buffon can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.