A suspected bank robber who led police on a high-speed chase that stretched through three counties had prior scrapes with the law, but for the most part they weren’t violent felonies.
Brett Max Knight, 33, of Utah County, kept authorities at bay for more than an hour as he drove at speeds of more than 100 mph — mainly in the HOV lane — along a stretch of about 45 miles of Interstate 15.
The aftermath of the chase included Knight’s death by gunfire, a fatal car crash and hours-long backups for motorists attempting to drive north through Davis County during Monday night’s rush hour.
Knight had a history of mainly nonviolent offenses — like traffic citations, theft and illegal weapon possession — but he also had convictions for aggravated kidnapping, domestic violence and assault. He had served some jail time and successfully completed probation resulting from the convictions. He had never served prison time.
Adrianne Brackner, whose daughter-in-law is Knight’s niece, said she was surprised to hear about the shooting. She remembered Knight from the few times she met him as a man who was always willing to help.
He was also “an extremely talented carpenter,” Brackner said. Knight owned The Trim Surgeons, a company that installed and remodeled cabinets and trim. “I’ve heard that he’s done amazing work for people, beautiful work,” Brackner said.
Knight’s parents, who live in Salem, declined to comment Tuesday.
But Knight most recently had been fingered as the man who robbed Draper’s Chase Bank on Friday, and Draper and Lehi police tracked him to a Lehi motel room at about 4 p.m. Monday. When officers approached him, they said he bolted for his black pickup and raced north on I-15 with police from several departments in hot pursuit.
It wasn’t clear Tuesday why authorities decided to pursue Knight rather than attempt to apprehend him again at a later time, or if police suspected Knight might have been armed at the time or during the bank robbery at 252 E. 12300 South. Lehi and Draper police did not return messages seeking comment.
Utah County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Spencer Cannon said he couldn’t talk about this specific case, but said that officers generally have to take into account a variety of factors when determining how to proceed with a chase.
“You got a guy who, from all reports, is a bank robber,” Cannon said. “Your level of concern, because of that, is heightened. If you’re in pursuit of someone who is a known or suspected violent felon, then you have greater justification to initiate the pursuit.”
Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Dwayne Baird said that as Knight drove north, troopers and motorists reported seeing a gun on Knight’s dashboard and said Knight allegedly pointed it at them.
“When someone points a gun at you, you’ve got to expect that they’re going to shoot at you,” Baird said.
When Knight reached 4500 South, troopers deployed spike strips, puncturing the pickup’s left-side tires, to slow Knight’s flight.
Davis County Sheriff’s Sgt. Susan Poulsen said that by the time Knight entered Davis County, his speed had dropped to about 45 mph, which allowed sheriff’s deputies to deploy an armored car used by its SWAT team.
The armored car used a PIT maneuver — bumping the truck’s rear quarter panel and causing it to spin out — at about 5:10 p.m. near 200 North between Kaysville and Layton.
Knight then got out of his truck holding a handgun and exchanged heated words with officers, Baird said. When he raised his gun and allegedly pointed it at deputies, four of them opened fire, Baird said. Knight died at the scene.
Baird said three deputies were from the Utah County Sheriff’s Office and the fourth was with Davis County. All four deputies were on paid administrative leave Tuesday, according to their respective departments.
The State Bureau of Investigation was investigating the shooting, said UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson. He said investigators were still trying to determine whether Knight fired at officers, and who fired the fatal shot, or shots, that killed him.
The shooting and subsequent crime scene investigation closed I-15 between Park Lane, just north of Farmington, and Hill Field Road, in Layton, at the peak of rush hour. The freeway remained closed until about 11:15 p.m.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said his office will screen the case once the investigation is complete to determine if the officers’ use of force was justified.
Johnson said UHP troopers did not participate in the pursuit, but troopers deployed the spike strips and then performed traffic control in an effort to keep motorists out of harm’s way.
“We kept the public out of that potential [danger],” he said. “There could have been bullets going everywhere.”
Johnson said that, in general, UHP’s policy has supervisors monitoring chases. If pursuits begin to pose a danger to the public, they are terminated.
“Once the risk for safety increases to the troopers, and especially to the other motoring public,” Johnson said, “we’re going to seriously reconsider that pursuit.”
No one was injured during the chase itself, but Maria Herrera, 18, of Layton, died afterward when she encountered the halted traffic stemming from the crash and failed to stop her 2003 Subaru Legacy in time.
After veering into the emergency lane and then over-correcting into the right lane, she collided first with a Hyundai passenger car about 8:20 p.m. and then spun into the back of a semi-tractor rig. Herrera was ejected and suffered fatal injuries, troopers said.
The driver of the Hyundai, a 42-year-old Alpine man, was transported to the hospital for treatment of minor injures. The semi driver was not injured.
Herrera was very kind, even when people were mean to her, said her friend Max Ramos. “She cared a lot about children, and she was really interested in psychology... She’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and probably ever will meet.”
According to a search of Utah court records, Knight has a criminal history of mostly non-violent offenses. In 2004, he was convicted in federal court for possession of a stolen shotgun and was sentenced to three years probation.
In state court, Knight pleaded no contest in 1999 in Provo’s 4th District Court to a reduced third-degree felony count of aggravated kidnapping and was sentenced to probation and nine months in jail.
In 2004, he was charged in four theft cases in 4th District Court. Two cases were dismissed, but he pleaded guilty to class A misdemeanor theft in one case and entered a guilty plea to third-degree felony theft in another. For the felony conviction, he spent a year in the Utah County jail, according to court records.
In 2007, he pleaded guilty to class B misdemeanor assault in Salt Lake City’s justice court and was sentenced to probation.
And in 2011, he was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to violating a protective order, a class A misdemeanor, in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.
Tribune reporters Michael McFall, Bob Mims, Jessica Miller and Donald W. Meyers contributed to this report.