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Florence man charged following high-speed chase
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Florence man charged following high-speed chase

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A Florence man who allegedly fled in a stolen vehicle at speeds that neared 120 mph and then led law enforcement officers on a prolonged foot chase in May was charged Wednesday with felony theft and multiple misdemeanors.

Saul James Dooling, 19, of Florence was originally cited just for the misdemeanor counts in justice court following the incident.

The felony charge was added this week after an investigation found the sedan Dooling was driving on May 18 had allegedly been stolen from Jerry’s Transmission in Missoula. He also faces misdemeanor charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, fleeing from an officer, obstructing an officer, reckless driving, driving while license was suspended or revoked and criminal trespass to property.

A Montana Highway Patrol trooper was traveling southbound about 10:37 p.m. May 18 on Highway 93 in a 65 mph zone when he observed a vehicle traveling northbound at a high rate of speed, according to the charging affidavit.

The trooper’s radar showed the vehicle was traveling at 85 mph. He turned around and by the time he caught up with the vehicle, it had increased its speed to 111 mph. When the trooper activated his emergency lights, the sedan’s speed climbed to 119 mph.

The trooper saw the sedan nearly miss another vehicle that tried to pull over to the shoulder.

As the trooper and sedan approached Sweeney Creek Loop Road south of Florence at a sustained speed of 119 mph, the trooper saw the sedan’s brake lights illuminate as the vehicle slowed to 90 mph as it attempted to make the right-hand turn onto the side street.

The sedan was unable to negotiate the high-speed turn and the driver lost control. The sedan left the road, went over the shoulder of Highway 93 and came to a stop in a field on the east side of the highway where it became high-centered next to the railroad tracks.

At that point, the trooper spotted the driver — who was wearing a fluorescent yellow coat with reflective tape — exit the vehicle and begin to flee on foot.

The trooper’s radio transmission about the crash wasn’t initially received by dispatch. He began pursuing the driver and yelled out “Stop. Police. Stop.” The man did not comply. He hopped over a fence and ran to the east side of a field bordered by Koch Lane where he attempted to hide behind a tree.

Considering the man’s actions leading up to that point and the fact the trooper didn’t know if the man was armed, the trooper drew his firearm as he continued the pursuit. When the trooper saw the man again, he directed him to show his hands.

Instead of complying, the man stood and began to remove his fluorescent coat. The trooper yelled, “Police, don’t move,” but the driver took off his coat and threw it on the ground. Now that the driver was shirtless, the trooper could see the driver didn’t have anything in his hands. He observed the driver had shoulder-length, shaggy black hair and appeared to be in his mid-20s.

The driver continued to ignore the trooper’s order to stop and continued running north. The trooper holstered his firearm and deployed his Taser.

The trooper ran east on Sweeney Creek Loop until he was able to turn north on Koch Lane and parallel the driver along the road. The driver then jumped the fence, ran into some thick brush and then emerged on the road several feet in front of the trooper, who again yelled “Police, stop or you will be tased.”

The driver looked at the trooper, ignored his command and began to run in a northwest direction. The trooper hopped the fence and pursued the driver through the field as he continued to yell commands to stop or the man would be tased.

The man then climbed a 5-foot-tall fence and fell to the other side, where he continued to run in the direction of a home. Because the driver had ignored multiple commands to stop and the trooper worried he would try to enter the home to avoid apprehension, the trooper fired a cartridge of his Taser at the man.

The trooper heard the man yell out as he hit the ground. He then stood back up and ran in the direction of the house.

The trooper lost sight of the man as he ran around the backside of the home. The trooper was unable to cross a barbed wire fence and cut himself trying.

The trooper returned to Koch Lane, where he met with two other troopers who had arrived on the scene. A Ravalli County sheriff’s deputy soon joined the search.

After hearing the trooper’s description of the sedan and its driver, the deputy identified the man as Dooling.

While searching the area, someone reported seeing a shirtless man on their front porch on Poplar Lane. Law enforcement responded to the scene but was unable to find the man.

About an hour into the search, Ravalli County Dispatch was advised that a homeowner on Koch Lane was reporting that someone was in the crawl space of their home.

Dooling was spotted in the crawl space, the affidavit said. He was ordered to come out. He removed the door of the crawl space and put his hands in the air, but refused to come out on his own. Law enforcement officers pulled him out.

At this point, Dooling was shirtless and had multiple wounds, cuts and scrapes that were consistent with someone running through barbed-wire fences and thick brush, the affidavit said. His hair had debris in it. A Taser probe was located in Dooling’s right buttock as well as his right ankle.

Ravalli County Judge Jim Bailey set bond at $20,000.

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