OAKHURST – Highway 41 was closed for nearly five hours last night after a man attempted to elude officers, crashed the car, and then refused to get out of the wrecked vehicle.
Just after 8 p.m., a CHP officer attempted a traffic stop on a car that was spotted traveling at a high rate of speed near El Cid in Oakhurst.
The male driver refused to pull over and sped off north up Highway 41 in the 2001 Saturn, driving recklessly and crossing over the center line. In a curve just south of Road 630 (Sugar Pine) he crashed off the west side of the road and down the embankment.
The driver refused repeated commands to exit the vehicle, and instead locked himself inside and began lighting pieces of paper on fire. He also had a samurai sword in the car with him.
Madera County Sheriff’s deputies were called to assist at that point, including a K9 Team and crisis negotiators.
Cal Fire engines which had been staging some distance away while law enforcement assessed the situation, were called in to lay hose in case of a fire.
The driver had barricaded himself inside the vehicle and CHP officers and sheriff’s deputies made long, unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the driver, who wouldn’t talk to them; he just made obscene gestures and threatened them, saying he was going to kill them.
Deputies employed various means to motivate the man to exit peacefully, but he continued to curse and threaten, and finally they blasted water into the vehicle. With temperatures in the 20s, they hoped the cold water would have the desired effect; but the man still refused to come out. A second round of cold water was also unsuccessful.
Deputies then used OC spray (pepper spray) which did prompt the man to open the window to climb out, at which point he accidentally dropped his sword.
He then jumped into the back of the car, pulled down the back seat and climbed into the trunk. With the threat of his weapon gone, deputies opened the trunk, detained the man, and turned him over to CHP.
Meanwhile, Highway 41 was shut down in both directions. The traffic was fairly light, but many waiting in the northbound lane were headed to the Tenaya – just a few miles away. Employees trying to head home were also stranded at the lodge until after 1 a.m.
While some may ask why this all took so long, and why officers didn’t just smash the windows and grab the guy, Madera Sheriff’s Commander Tyson Pogue says the goal is to use as little force as is required to affect the desired results.
“The number one priority is to get everyone home safe,” he says, “including the suspect. We want to exhaust all other safer methods and give the negotiators time to try to get him to surrender peacefully. It does create some inconvenience for the public, but we’re talking about a human life.”
Also, it was not known whether the man had other weapons in the car.
Sierra Ambulance was called back in to the scene, and the man was transported to a Valley hospital. He did not have any apparent injures, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
A tow truck arrived at about 12:35 a.m. and pulled the vehicle back up onto the roadway. Both lanes were reopened at about 1:20 a.m.
The driver is a 23-year-old male from Fresno.