FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. (AP) — A gunman armed with a rifle, body armor and extra ammunition opened fire on vehicles on a highway in the Phoenix outskirts, leaving at least two people injured before police captured him near a stolen car that crashed into a ditch, authorities said Wednesday.
Arizona Department of Public Safety officials identified the suspect as James David Walker, 36, of San Tan Valley.
They said Walker was being booked into the downtown Phoenix jail on suspicion of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, endangerment, armed robbery, theft of means of transportation and possession of dangerous drugs with additional charges pending.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Walker had a lawyer yet.
Officials with DPS and the Arizona Department of Corrections said Walker’s criminal record includes a second-degree murder conviction in Maricopa County. DOC records indicate Walker served a 16-year prison sentence on the conviction stemming from a 1995 offense and he was released from prison in 2014.
Before his arrest, the suspect allegedly carjacked a vehicle at a gas station and shot at a state trooper’s cruiser during a manhunt Tuesday night. The officer was not injured, but authorities said one person was grazed on the head with a bullet and another was hit in the leg during the highway shootings.
There was no immediate indication the gunfire was tied to a series of shootings on Phoenix-area freeways that gained national attention last August and September. They were concentrated on different freeways and in the heart of the city. That case is unsolved after prosecutors dropped charges against a suspect who spent seven months in jail.
DPS spokesman Bart Graves said Walker wasn’t cooperating with authorities interviewing him Wednesday about the latest shootings and there’s no way to know yet if he’s possibly connected to last year’s freeway shootings.
“We’re in the early stages of the investigation,” Graves said.
Drivers began calling 911 about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday saying a man had fired at them with a rifle or “machine gun,” said Capt. Damon Cecil, a DPS spokesman.
DPS said six vehicles were struck by gunfire, including one trooper’s vehicle that was shot several times.
Authorities believe the gunman was shooting at passing cars from a vehicle or the side of State Route 87, also known as the Beeline Highway, which hugs Phoenix’s eastern suburbs and heads to cities in northeastern Arizona.
Troopers responding to emergency calls about the shootings found the victims, one who sought his own medical attention for a minor grazing injury and another who was taken to a hospital for a leg wound that was not life-threatening, Cecil said.
The suspect then drove to a gas station, stole a car at gunpoint and fled. During the search, the man fired several shots that hit a trooper’s patrol vehicle before officers lost track of him for about three hours, according to Cecil.
The gunman was arrested after a police helicopter spotted the stolen car in a ditch off the highway. Officers found him lying on the ground in a fetal position, with an AR-15 rifle, body armor and numerous magazines of ammunition nearby, Cecil said.
Authorities said Walker was bitten by a police dog before being taken into custody and he was transported to a hospital for treatment.