Nephi • The four Juab County deputies who confronted and shot at a gunman did what they had to do, because the man already had shot two other police officers, a prosecutor said Friday.
The deputies jumped out of their trucks, ran through the snow and fired at the suspect, who was trying to carjack a motorist, said Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge, declaring the officers were justified in using force and are free to return to duty.
“It’s clear that these officers did really what they should have done,” Eldridge said, “what they were trained to do and what they needed to do. It’s clear from the facts that this was not going to end any other way.”
The shooting on Interstate 15 south of Nephi was the end of a violent episode that began in Eagle Mountain with the shooting death of Utah County sheriff’s Sgt. Cory Wride, 44.
The gunman, 27-year-old Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui, then shot and wounded the pursuing Utah County Deputy Greg Sherwood in Santaquin.
The news conference also shed additional light on what prosecutors believe the role was of the 17-year-old girl traveling with Garcia-Jauregui. Eldridge answered only a few questions about her, but said she was present from Eagle Mountain through the final gunfire exchange. Eldridge implied she was driving at one point.
Prosecutors will decide whether the teen will face criminal charges in this case by early next week, acting Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor said in an interview. It’s unclear whether the girl would be prosecuted as an adult or juvenile, should she be brought to court. That’s just one of the many things attorneys have been looking into, Taylor said.
The teen has been appointed a Utah County public defender to represent her.
Taylor said he has not received any information about what the girl was doing on the day of the shootings that led her into a car and onto I-15 with Garcia-Jauregui.
“That’s something we want to know,” Taylor said. “Where they hooked up, what they were doing, where they were coming from and where they were going. It’s something we’re trying to figure out ourselves.”
The girl has been in custody since the Jan. 30 shootings.
Eldridge spent most of the news conference praising law enforcement, particularly the four Juab County deputies. Eldridge’s presentation describes deputies and state troopers chasing Garcia-Jauregui as his white Toyota truck entered the county. There were reports the occupants were firing at passing motorists on the freeway and deputies had to keep a distance from the fleeing truck.
Law enforcement officers were in radio and cellphone communication with one another. According to Eldridge’s presentation, a deputy one mile north of Nephi placed a spike strip on the freeway and damaged the Toyota’s tires as it continued south.
Another deputy blocked the first exit ramp to Nephi with his truck and deployed spike strips to prevent the chase from entering the town. The spikes damaged the tires again on the Toyota and a Utah Highway Patrol car behind it.
The Toyota took the second exit into Nephi, according to the presentation. At the bottom of the ramp, Garcia-Jauregui and the girl ran. Deputies stopped about 40 yards behind the truck and began yelling orders for the pair to stop.
Eldridge’s presentation says Garcia-Jauregui turned and fired at the deputies and then turned and shot at motorists. Garcia-Jauregui and the girl ran south on Main Street. Deputies saw Garcia-Jauregui, gun in hand, pull a woman from a gold sports-utility vehicle and get in the driver’s seat. The frantic woman removed a child from a rear seat a second before the SUV pulled away, entered I-15 and resumed traveling south.
Deputies resumed the chase. Three miles south of where Garcia-Jauregui stole the SUV, a UHP sergeant deployed spike strips. Eldridge played video from a deputy’s dashboard camera that showed the hobbled SUV entering the median and then traveling south in the northbound lane.
Eldridge said the video shows Garcia-Jauregui intentionally colliding with an approaching minivan. Then, according to the presentation, Garcia-Jauregui exited the SUV and tried to enter the minivan. Deputies shouted for the driver to go. One deputy fired his AR-15 rifle at Garcia-Jauregui.
When the minivan accelerated, Garcia-Jauregui turned and fired at deputies running toward him, according to the presentation.
Juab County Sheriff Alden Orme, who was at Friday’s news conference, said at one point because of the elevation differences between the median and interstate, all the deputies could see of Garcia-Jauregui was his upper body.
“You couldn’t create a more stressful situation.” Orme said.
The deputies carried three AR-15s and one shotgun. The foursome fired a total of seven shots, Eldridge said.
One rifle round hit Garcia-Jauregui in the head. Eldridge said the bullet only ricocheted off the skull, but the trauma caused brain swelling that killed Garcia-Jauregui the next day at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
The attorney’s presentation said Garcia-Jauregui continued struggling with deputies as he was on the ground. They had to pry the now-empty pistol from his hand.