EVANS, Colo. -- A Weld County deputy was killed Tuesday morning following a shootout and high-speed chase with a suspect in a domestic violence and robbery case. The suspect also died hours after the gun battle.
The slain deputy was identified as 43-year-old Sam Brownlee, by Weld County Sheriff John Cooke. Cooke said Brownlee had been with the department for five years. He was married in June 2009.
"There was a house that caught on fire here in Weld county and he entered the house while it was still on fire to see if there was anybody in there that needed to be rescued. It turned out there wasn't. But the mere fact that he would go into the house while it was still burning to try and rescue anybody just goes to the type of man that he was," Cooke said.
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Friends began posting condolences on Brownlee's Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.
One said, "I will always love you buddy! You are in my heart forever." Another friend wrote, "Thank you. For everything. You will be dearly missed," and another posted, "We are all heartbroken today. It was a privilege to know you Sam...a man with a heart of gold."
Brownlee and the suspect, Ruben Reyes, 20, of Fort Morgan, were rushed to North Colorado Medical Center after the shooting, where Brownlee was pronounced dead.
Reyes died at 4:15 p.m., 6˝ hours after the shootout. Police said Reyes had been shot but the coroner would rule on the cause of death.
Witnesses Describe Gun Battle
Sheila White was getting to ready to hang Christmas lights outside her home when she heard a car careening into her Evans neighborhood. She saw the black vehicle turn the corner and noticed that its front tire was flat and it was followed by several police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
The vehicle stopped and the officers yelled several times at the suspect to get out the car, White said.
"They had pulled guns, rifles, everything when they came around the corner and jumped out of their cars," White said. "That scared me so I immediately went back into the house. I didn't want to get hit by stray bullets."
"Immediately, the cops swarmed the car. There's about seven or eight cops all around the car with guns pointed at the driver," said Christina Goss, who lives next door to the shooting scene.
The driver, a young Hispanic man with a bald head, "reached into the back seat and all of sudden we heard gunshots, like five, six gunshots going off," Goss said.
"Someone grabbed the kid, they pulled him from the car…and slammed him down on the street. You could see his head bouncing on the ground," she said, adding that about five officers wrestled the driver to the ground.
"Right next to him was the cop that was shot," Goss said.
She said she saw another deputy used his body to shield the injured deputy's body during the shootout.
"Another officer straddled (the wounded officer), held a gun straight up in the air and fired a shot," she said. "I don't know if this was a signal that one of the officer's was done or what. But four or five more officers came running up."
Officers frantically called for medical assistance after reporting "officer down, officer down!"
"Code 5, we need paramedics. Code 5, we need paramedics, now!" they radioed.
Several officers took turns doing CPR on the wounded officer, who was bleeding badly, witnesses said.
The driver on the ground appeared unconscious, Goss said.
"They checked the kid that was lying on the ground. They grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and his arm was just limp," Goss said. "He was bald-headed and you could see there was no color in his head. He was lifeless."
After the ambulances transported the officer and suspect, she said, a state trooper who had treated the fallen officer "came into our house and washed the blood off his hands."
Goss said there was a jackknifed silver truck with a trailer at the scene. Two Hispanic girls exited the pickup truck and began crying when they saw the suspect, she said.
“They were just screaming,” Goss said.
"One of the girls that tried to stop everything was crying hysterically," White said.
Chase Exceeded More Than 100 MPH
The incident began as a domestic violence call at 9:45 a.m., said Fort Morgan police Lt. Darin Sagel.
The female victim told police that the suspect took her car from the 1500 block of E. Burlington Street in Fort Morgan. That is the address of Cargill Meat Solutions. Fort Morgan police put out an alert for authorities to be on the lookout for a black 2006 Nissan Altima.
A Wiggins police officer spotted the vehicle on Highway 34, heading west toward Greeley, Sagel said.
The Wiggins police officer and a Morgan County sheriff's vehicle chased the car from the west end of county, near County Road 2, to the Weld County border, said Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone.
Crone explained that the officers continued the pursuit for 35 miles, at speeds exceeding 100 mph, because of "suspicious activity on behalf of the suspect."
Dispatch tapes show dispatchers warned pursuing officers about the driver during the chase.
"From Morgan County, be advised this party has made talks of suicide, does not want to go back to prison. As of this time we do not know of any weapons in the vehicle ... does have gang affiliation," a dispatcher radioed to to pursuing officers.
Weld County Deputies Take Over Chase
Weld County deputies got involved in the pursuit around 10:35 a.m., when the chase stretched into the Greeley-Kersey area, said Greeley police Sgt. Joe Tymkowych.
He continued to speed and at times, was driving on the wrong side of the road, witnesses said. At some point, the Colorado State Patrol deployed a stop stick to flatten his tires.
Deputy Sam Brownlee as seen on his Facebook page.
The chase ended at 11:02 a.m. in the Cave Creek subdivision, at Cedar Lane and Coyote Lane, within the Evans city limits, Tymkowych said.
"Shots were exchanged, a confrontation occurred. The deputy went down, a suspect went down," Tymkowych said during a Tuesday morning media briefing.
He said the chase involved officers from Fort Morgan police, Weld and Morgan County sheriff's offices, Colorado State Patrol and Greeley and Evans police.
Beverly Elzey said she was inside her home when she heard about five or six gunshots within 30 seconds.
"I grabbed my son because my son was screaming. He was very scared," Elzey said. "We just stayed near the couch on the floor because we didn't know where the shots were coming from. I was not about to go look outside."
First Deputy Killed In 70 Years
This may be the first time a Weld County deputy has been killed in the line of duty in 70 years. According to the Officer Down Memorial Website, Weld County Deputy Sheriff Earl J. Bucher was killed by gunfire on Dec. 31, 1940. Bucher was answering a domestic violence call on New Year's Eve when he was shot and killed by a man who had just killed his own wife.
A previous booking photo of Ruben Reyes.
Reyes has a criminal history, including July convictions for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and underage drinking in Morgan County, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records. He was convicted of felony menacing with a real or simulated weapon in February.
Reyes, who went by the street names, "Demon" and "Smiley," also had previous arrests for assault causing serious bodily injury and driving under the influence of drugs, according to CBI records.
Greeley police have taken over the investigation because Evans police, Weld County Sheriff's Department, Fort Morgan police, Wiggins police, Morgan County Sheriff's Office, and Colorado State Patrol were all involved in the case.
A birth announcement posted in the Fort Morgan Times lists Reyes as the father of baby born last June at the Colorado Plains Medical Center. The mother of the child was undergoing questioning at the Weld County Sheriff's Office at 4 p.m. Tuesday.