Dead Run: New Excerpt

Dead Run by Dan Schultz
Dead Run by Dan Schultz
An excerpt of Dead Run by Dan Schultz, the narrative non-fiction story of one of the largest manhunts in history  (available March 26, 2013).

On a sunny May morning in 1998 in Cortez, Colorado, three desperados in a stolen truck opened fire on the town cop, shooting him twenty times; then they blasted their way past dozens of police cars and disappeared into 10,000 square miles of the harshest wilderness terrain on the North American continent. Self-trained survivalists, the outlaws eluded the most sophisticated law enforcement technology on the planet and a pursuit force that represented more than seventy-five local, state, and federal police agencies with dozens of swat teams, U.S. Army Special Forces, and more than five hundred officers from across the country.

Dead Run is the first in-depth account of this sensational case, replete with overbearing local sheriffs, Native American trackers, posses on horseback, suspicion of vigilante justice and police cover-ups, and the blunders of the nation’s most exalted crime-fighters pursuing outlaws into territory in which only they could survive.

 

Chapter 1
Outlaw Trails

Contrary to one’s first mental image, Four Corners does not form a box. Life here is not constrained. Rather, the Four Corners of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah form a cross and the lines stretch outward to an infinite western horizon. Viewed from a southwest perspective, it is an “X” on a map marking the location of a hard country, part real, part illusion.

In the blurring of that reality and illusion, glimpsed through the schlieren of superheated air shimmering above red rock canyon ?oors, is a heritage of guns, desperados and violence. The land and all that ?ows, grows or roams wild across it belongs to those who share its history, whose great-grandparents died there—whether shot, hung or simply worked into the ground. A distrust of outsiders and the government is instinctual. And lawbreakers both factual and ?ctional become mythical, from Butch Cassidy to Edward Abbey’s George Hayduke.

Sentiments in Four Corners are con?icted. On the one hand, right and wrong are as self-evident as white hats and black hats. Legal nuance is gu?awed at as horsepucky and peacekeepers, both the Colt .45 and the men who wielded it or its modern equivalent are consigned special esteem.

On the other hand, there is something romantic in the ideal of the daring, wild young outlaw thumbing his nose at the law, eluding capture at impossible odds and disappearing in the untamed expanses beyond the horizon of authority. Enough to want to overlook the wrongs and rationalize the intent, sympathize, even admire. Enough to believe that Butch Cassidy, despite Hole-in-the-Wall Gang shootouts that left bodies on the ground, never really harmed anyone. Enough to cheer for George Hayduke as a lovable vandal with a noble cause. To spur rumors, in the absence of proof otherwise, that the outlaw got away, rode into the sunset and onto the plain of legend fueled by dime novels and lurid Eastern newspaper stories—or Web sites.

The duality is not surprising. It is, after all, the American Wild West, a synthesis of geography and history; supernal red sunsets and bloodstained boardwalks; the ethereal silence of a desert night and the jarring crack of gun?re; truth, exaggeration and outright fabrication. Unlike those myths borrowed and burrowed into our psyche from foreign cultures, it is one of our own making, and for better or worse, a fundamental determinant of who we are as Americans.

Like the land and legends that created it, the spirit of the American West is too expansive to capture in cohesive thought, yet we know it by its landmarks: individualism, excess, self-reliance, resourcefulness, impatience and, above all, freedom.

More than the institutionalized freedoms assured by our Constitution and body of law, it was the freedom of hidden canyons, impregnable mountains and unassailable desert. You are free not because a court says so, but because you’ve got a fast horse and a faster gun. It is the freedom of wide-open spaces; of unregulated rivers, unturned earth, unmolested cli?s and unencumbered spirit. It is the freedom of de?ance; the right to spare the other cheek and answer any provocation with escalated force.

It is an ethic of contradictions, as a parched desert canyon channels the occasional ?ash ?ood. Where self-reliance and independence can ?ow over to extreme rebuke of all law and authority. Where resolve and courage to stand your ground can become a sudden torrent of violence. It is an ethic suited to making outlaws into outlaw heroes.

Multimillion-dollar ski homes line Butch Cassidy Drive in the town of Telluride, Colorado, on the northeastern edge of Four Corners territory. The gentri?ed resort community of East Coast secondhome owners is uncharacteristic of the real West that rolls endlessly across successive horizons beyond it, where the vehicle of choice is a pickup truck rather than a Prius. Where ranches aren’t hobbies but the livelihood of fourth-generation families, and everyday life still has a raw edge to it. But Telluride was not always distinct from the West. It began as a hardscrabble mining town and it is ironic that today there is a street named after Butch Cassidy. His connection to the community is not as a founder or honorable former mayor, a civicminded resident or leading businessman. On June 24, 1889, he robbed its bank. He stole twenty thousand dollars of the town’s money, threatened extreme violence against any citizens who might be tempted to interfere with his theft by ?ring warning shots in the air and, with two accomplices from nearby Cortez, Colorado, rode as fast as he could into the wild canyons over the Utah border. It was, in fact, his ?rst bank robbery and as the plaque on the building that now sits on the bank site proudly reminds, it was on that spot that the Butch Cassidy legend began. It is even more odd that his legacy is summoned in that particular upscale subdivision. Rich Easterners taking control of the choicest Western land were exactly the people Butch Cassidy claimed to be waging his populist war of crime against. Still, even the economic descendants of his victims ?nd Cassidy’s outlaw hero appeal irresistible.

Throughout the decade that police searched for the outlaws whose story is told in the following pages, they scolded the public time and again, “These killers are not heroes.” Privately they were deeply frustrated by the public’s fascination with the fugitives. But such perverse interest was inevitable; especially considering the Wild West nature of the crime.

The tradition of the outlaw hero is universal but it ?owered most profusely in the American West. There, the distinction between an outlaw hero and an outlaw hung was not always apparent, but the trail from repugnant criminal to popular desperado was well ridden. Something about life out-of-bounds fascinated the public and even in the face of atrocious crimes, law-abiding citizens seemed more than willing to view bad guys with nervous admiration. In moments of musing as they bent to the task of ordinary life, it was as Eugene Manlove Rhodes, the “cowboy chronicler” who lived in and wrote about the Old West, suggested, “Outlaws are just more interesting than in-laws.”

Part of what made the celebrated outlaws of the American West interesting was their daring crimes and reckless confrontations—in-your-face close and brazenly public. Stripped of one-hundred-plus years of fanciful pop-culture embellishment and decades of Hollywood gilding, Western gun?ghts were usually less knightly than legend portrays. Many were ambushes, back shootings or long-range shootouts with adversaries crouched behind cover. But others were eye-to-eye with mortal danger so imminent that a reasonable man would slip away and ?nd someplace safe to puke. To engage in them required courage and public opinion turned on such displays of bravery, regardless of what color hat the gunman was wearing.

The one other standard of behavior consistently expected of our outlaw heroes was adherence to an outlaw code of honor. It was an unspoken, ill-de?ned standard of morality above the law that could overlook unwarranted violence, but required a measure of personal integrity: loyalty to friends and gang members, discrimination between adversaries and bystanders, and straightforward actions. If they were going to steal from you, they robbed you right up front, not by a Ponzi scheme. If they were going to kill you, they rode up and shot you. They were, in most respects, true to their word, transparent in their motivations and intentions.

Although not cheered as revolutionaries or vanguards of a particular political cause, Western outlaw heroes were associated with a populist philosophy. They cultivated the same “true citizen and patriot” image claimed by today’s militia movement. In writings attributed to Butch Cassidy, he describes himself as “a citizen of the United States against cattle barons.” And in another reference, “an outlaw ?ghting for settlers’ rights against large cattle companies.” In a West where settlers sought the American Dream but where few found riches, on land they worked but of which the largest, most pro?table pieces were owned by British and Eastern cattle conglomerates, railroad magnates and mining companies, it was a popular image. Even if the outlaws didn’t redistribute their loot Robin Hood style, they were heroes just for sticking it to the establishment.

There is one more element common to leading Western outlaw heroes—they got away, at least according to legend. Their ability to remain at large for years despite signi?cant e?orts to capture them bewitched the public. Better yet, some outlaws were, by legend, never captured at all. They simply eluded the law and disappeared. Jesse James lived on by the wishful thinking of his public, despite the fact that his body was positively identi?ed by the scars of former wounds, put on ice and photographed. Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy’s ?nal escapes are also based on popular rumors, but the historical record leaves room to believe that for each man, the rumor could be true. The truth, however, is not the point. We want them to have escaped. Their wild, unbounded outlaw freedom and wholehearted disregard for authority captures the public imagination and has us in some small manner rooting for the bad guy.

But the main reason the ideal of an outlaw hero resonates so broadly in our society, why we have created a peculiarly American variety within our broader national myth of the American West is that the Western outlaw hero is a twisted extension of core American values.

The desperate outlaw on the run not only had the freedom of the free-roaming cowboy disengaged with society; he pushed back at subjugating social forces—the relentless press of civilization and regulation. For however long he could stay at large, the systematic oppression of government, bureaucracy, corporations, technology—of ordinary do-the-right-thing life—was overthrown. Like standing on the rim of a mesa staring westward across miles of jagged, wild country and feeling not small, but distinct and vital, the outlaw speaks to our elemental ache for individualism. The voice may not have su?cient force to drown out our social conscience or sway our better judgment that an uncaptured outlaw is a menace, but it’s a whisper loud enough to intrigue, to rationalize and romanticize, and in the right circumstances transform a villain into a hero.

It is the myth of the West as much as the reality that forges our national identity. One of the great propagators of the myth, Western moviemaker John Ford, put it best in the 1962 classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. “This is the West. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Hardwired by a Western narrative of guns and frontier justice, we revel in the positive attributes of strength, courage and daring action even as they open the door for acts of violence. In cheering for the outlaw hero, we are making a psychological stand for freedom, standing up to authoritarianism and dehumanizing social forces, but we are also sanctioning brutal, inhuman antisocial behavior. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner, whose preeminent Frontier Thesis ?rst asserted that the American character was formed by the Western experience, warned of the danger of “pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds.” The proper balance is as elusive as Butch Cassidy.

Dynamite Dan Clifton was known as “the most killed outlaw in America.” A cattle rustler and train robber in Oklahoma Indian Territory, he lost three ?ngers in an 1893 gun?ght while riding with the Doolin Gang. He was a relatively minor criminal for the times, not destined for the outlaw hall of fame. Nevertheless Clifton accumulated a sizable bounty on his head—thirty-?ve hundred dollars. It was enough that posses would constantly turn in a shot-up corpse claiming the reward, but the ten-?ngered bodies were quickly identi?ed as someone other than Dynamite Dan. In those cases where the bounty hunters had the foresight to cut ?ngers o? the unfortunate soul they had shot to pieces, they invariably chose the wrong three ?ngers.

Like Dynamite Dan, the Old West is forever vanishing, but never vanished. It is a way of life successively pronounced dead, allowing each generation in its lament to appreciate it more poignantly. The West most Americans hold in their minds, the unfenced foundational West of open-range grazing and long cattle drives, was barely of drinking age when it was reportedly strangled to death by the barbwire.

It died again a few years later when the 1890 census found the nation no longer had a contiguous line of settlement. American civilization stretched from Plymouth Rock to San Francisco Bay and the frontier was closed. But in case those who lived in the West hadn’t noticed, the Census Bureau published another obituary after the 1900 census: with an average population of two people per square mile, the West was o?cially “settled.”

Some believed it. Western artist Frederic Remington wrote wistfully, “I knew the wild riders and vacant land were about to vanish forever . . . the end of three centuries of smoke and dust and sweat.” Still, like many of its legendary outlaws and lawmen, the West refused to go down easily. Train and bank robberies, horseback posse chases and six-gun shootouts continued well into the twentieth century. Historians pushed the time of death for the Old West forward to 1920, coinciding with the end of the Mexican Revolution. But as a way of life, despite the eventual sparse web of paved roads, gasolinepowered vehicles and electri?cation, the West persisted. In every decade, social observers continued to note its dying ?ickers. Writers Zane Grey and Will James found it still taking shallow breaths in the

1920s and 1930s. Cormac McCarthy found a vanishing West set in the 1930s and 1940s. And Larry McMurtry, through his character Duane Moore, traces the slow death (or lingering life) of the West through the entire second half of the twentieth century, into the twenty-?rst.

The West lives. Despite the Walmarts and tourist information centers, the satellite dishes and Social Security, there remains a vital intrinsic West that is as it always was. Many of the attitudes, loyalties and animosities rooted in the Old West have only been fanned by the ensuing decades. In vast parts of the territory that was the historical West, there are no more residents today than there were in 1900; in many counties there are fewer. Across its vast horizon, between the larger communities that dot it, even the pockmarks of mining, timber-cutting, energy and water projects are diminished by scale. In many locations, the land features are immutable. Within the millions of acres of wilderness areas and yet unfenced country there are timeless places. You can still stand on a mountaintop and gaze across broad vistas to distant ridges. Or stare up at the same immense milky night sky that trail riders did a century ago. Or bear witness to a sunset indistinguishable from those that inspired Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

Beyond the real West is the mythical West; the West of movies, books, song and video games; the West of enduring legend. It is the West that leads thousands of people every year to pull o? the road and stand at the graves of Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp or Wild Bill Hickok. The West that draws millions of East Coasters and Midwesterners to vacations in the Mountain States, where they stay in accommodations with cowhide-upholstered sofas and elk-antler chandeliers. The West where the receding vibrations of a wild, audacious America still tickle the hair on the back of your neck.

It is real and it is mythical. And one sunny morning in May 1998, near the epicenter of Old West outlaw violence, it happened all over again: the guns; the killing; the posse chase and shootout; the escape into a vast wild country of sagebrush, box canyons and the occasional cowboy on horseback; Native American trackers; a grueling manhunt; and a populist outlaw disappearing into legend.

Such is Four Corners. As it was in 1898. As it remained a hundred years later.

 

Chapter 2
McElmo Bridge

By mid-May of 1998, the Animas River, swollen by snowmelt from the San Juan Mountains at the northeastern edge of the Four Corners region, was ?owing near its annual peak. It cascaded alongside US Highway 550 and the 1880-era narrow-gauge railroad where tourists were treated to a reenactment of an “Old West” train robbery. Entering Durango from the north, the last free-?owing river in the Western United States rushes under the North Main Avenue bridge, sweeps around the west edge of the historic district, pours past the city’s southern boundary, and crashes untamed and unrestrained, indi?erent and unrepentant along outlaw trails once used by Butch Cassidy, Ezra Lay and Kid Curry.

Officially, its name is El Rio de las Animas Perdidas—The River of Lost Souls. It was the name ?rst whispered around the camp?res of early Spanish explorers who sent successive scouting parties down the river to oblivion. No contact. No bodies. No ascension to heaven.

Alan “Monte” Pilon, Robert Mason and Jason McVean had lived and conspired on a steep blu? overlooking the river. In the early morning hours of May 28, they crossed it as they sped along Camino del Rio toward Ignacio, Colorado, to steal a water truck—on their way to becoming lost souls.
 

Forty-?ve miles west of Durango, May 29, 1998, began with mixed emotions for Carrie Evans. The exuberance of graduating from Cortez High School the previous evening along with 201 other students still ?ickered. But at the moment, a little after 9:00 a.m., she sat distracted in the rear seat of a black Camaro convertible turning south onto Montezuma County Road 27 toward McElmo Bridge, on the way to have her wisdom teeth pulled.

Not far away, on the opposite side of McElmo Creek, sixteenyear-old Matt Weston’s day was already well under way. He’d already driven to school where he was o?cially dismissed for the summer and now was leaving again to pick up a computer desk at Kmart. Driving a silver Ford Explorer, he too would turn onto CR 27, converging on the bridge from the opposite direction as Carrie.

Elsewhere in Cortez, others also gravitated toward McElmo Bridge. Michelle Dorn would reach it a few seconds ahead of Matt; Evelyn Pearson a few seconds after him. A garbage truck heading for the county land?ll rumbled toward it. A mechanic working in the school district’s bus barn two hundred yards south of the structure paused, screwdriver in hand, and tipped his ear toward it. A deejay in the radio station up the road glanced out the window toward it. And at houses within earshot of McElmo Bridge, residents tending their gardens or half listening to the police scanner as they cleaned up breakfast dishes looked up at the distinct sound coming from it.

Cortez city policeman Dale Claxton’s trajectory that morning also led him to McElmo Bridge. At the eastern edge of the city where Main Street begins to reclaim its identity as Colorado State Highway 160, the ramp onto North Dolores plunges the motorist o? the plateau of community and into the sagebrush fringes of civilization. In less than two hundred yards, the road gives up ?fty feet in elevation, crosses over the city limits and merges onto County Road 27, a half mile north of McElmo Bridge. The city doesn’t peter out; it ends. A short distance behind but erased from sight by the plateau ridge, treelined boulevards front tidy yards and well-kept homes. Far ahead the pine-covered hills guarding Mesa Verde National Park frame the horizon. Between lay miles of low scrub and barren gravel wasteland.

A dilapidated trailer house ringed with rusted appliances and vehicle parts sat a hundred yards to the left of CR 27. Another dwelling occupied a dirt yard on the right side of the road, just beyond the bridge. Between them ?ows McElmo creek. Even in the parched Southwest, where men ?ght over water, it is a no-account stream; under the bridge a muddy meandering trench crossable with a single wide step.

The bridge itself is even less remarkable; a bridge only by the technicality that it spans the creek and a few feet of gully. From the perspective of an approaching driver, there is no visible structure of steel girders, creosote beams or concrete buttresses. The roadbed neither narrows, nor rises. Low guardrails and the falling away of the land to each side of the road are the only clues that ahead there is a bridge at all.

Filling in on his day o? for a colleague who was attending a training seminar that morning, Claxton went on duty at 6:30 a.m. He typically arrived at the station about ten minutes ahead of his shift, and as far as his coworkers recall, that day was no di?erent. Pouring himself a cup of co?ee, Claxton likely sat down at one of the empty desks shared by patrol o?cers, took a sip from his mug, opened his notebook and bent to complete his reports. The station was, by and large, vacant at that time of day, with only a handful of other department employees present who may have remembered Claxton’s exact motions and comments that morning. And their memories of the mundane were overprinted by the events about to take place. After completing his paperwork, Claxton dropped it into the ?le basket near the dispatch desk. Then, as a last step before going out on patrol, checked the briefing board hanging on a nail in the wall above the shelf.

The brie?ng board was a clipboard logging all the police calls and activities for the past twenty-four hours. “All in all, there was nothing out of the ordinary, mainly things like a fender-bender or a complaint about a neighbor’s dog running loose,” according to Roy Lane, Cortez chief of police.

 

In 1998, Cortez, Colorado, was a relatively safe town; less than ten violent crimes of any kind per year according to federal statistics. So the eleven-line printout from neighboring LaPlata County didn’t raise much alarm.

*********ATL    STOLEN    WATER    TANKER    TRUCK********* MKE/STOLEN VEHICLE

ORI/COO34OOOO    LIC/ IRF2783    LIS/NM    LIY/99    LIT/AP VIN/ 1M2P267COWMO35159    VYR/98 VMA/MACK

VMO/TK    VCO/WHI/WHI DOT/052898    OCA/ 9820959

MIS/80    BARREL TANK    OVERRIGHT TRUCKING ON DOORS NIC/V418783994

ORI IS LA PLATA CO SO DURANGO CO IMMED CONFIRM RECORD WITH ORI

AUTH LA PLATA COUNTY SO    06:09:14 MT DJS Message sent    5/29/98    6:09 (A.M.)

If the stolen water truck passed through Cortez, it would be hard to miss—a white Mack truck with a four-thousand-gallon tank, New Mexico license plates and the name OVERRIGHT TRUCKING on the doors.

It might have been kids joyriding. At worst, it was another lowlevel incident of ecoterrorism. Sabotaging work sites and stealing construction equipment had become common practice among radical environmentalists in Four Corners ever since Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang became the Magna Carta of the movement’s extremists.

The book’s main characters—ex–Green Beret Vietnam vet George Hayduke, Jack Mormon river-rafting guide Seldom Seen Smith, billboard-burning surgeon Dr. Sarvis and his girlfriend, Bonnie Abzug—escalated their crimes against the “spoilers” of the Southwest from pulling out survey stakes and ?lling bulldozer fuel tanks with Karo syrup to dynamiting coal plants and transmission lines, ultimately engaging in a full-blown shoot-out with authorities. Even though the story was set in the Four Corners area, the most virulent, destructive Monkey Wrench disciples had struck elsewhere in the West. Stealing a water tanker truck from a work site would be more in line with the local MO.

Sometime between 7 and 7:30 a.m., Claxton left the station and buckled into a white ’96 Chevrolet Impala with city of cortez police department emblems on the front doors, waited for the parking lot electric gate to lift and pulled onto Empire Street. His patrol that morning took him to his home on the north edge of the city where he picked up his son Corbin. Dropping Corbin at school for his last day of sixth grade, Claxton then zigzagged across town to Cortez Middle School where his wife Sue taught seventh grade. Poking his head around the door of her classroom, he made a last-day-of-school lunch date with his wife, gave her a kiss as they stood in the hallway outside her room and left to resume his patrol. Other than two cell phone calls, one from a citizen with information about a property damage complaint that Dale had responded to a few days earlier and one from a fellow o?cer wondering what Dale knew about a car that had been towed the previous evening, nothing more was heard from him until 9:24 a.m. when he radioed Cortez police dispatcher Connie Johnson: “Behind Mack truck reported stolen; south on County Road 27, approximately one-half mile from McElmo Bridge.”

Robert Carpenter watched a white tanker truck roll slowly down Highway 160 past his auto repair shop. A police car followed a few feet behind. “The truck was going ten or ?fteen miles per hour, like it was having engine trouble or running out of gas and the patrol car was escorting it,” he told police. In his witness statement, Carpenter described watching the two vehicles for about half a mile until they turned south at County Road 27 and headed down the hill toward McElmo Bridge. It would have been about then that Claxton made his ?rst radio call reporting that he had spotted the stolen vehicle.

It was also at that time that Michelle Dorn crossed the bridge driving north into town to meet her mother. Normally she wouldn’t remember a white truck coming toward her. But as she watched, the corner of a police car showed itself from behind the truck, the red and blue lights on its front bumper ?ashing. Her foot tapped the brakes. “I slowed because I thought he was pulling the truck over for a ticket and I didn’t want to get one.”

As Michelle continued up the hill on the north side of McElmo Bridge she glanced in her rearview mirror. The tanker and police car crossed the bridge and rolled to a stop. Matt Weston’s silver SUV, was approaching the bridge behind her.
 

From a hundred feet away Matt Weston could see three men in the tanker’s cab, in itself nothing out of the ordinary. But as the distance closed between his Explorer and the tanker stopped on the side of the road, he suddenly felt uneasy. Each occupant was wearing camou?age and holding what appeared to be ri?es, barrels pointed toward the cab ceiling. Tightening his grip on the wheel, Matt kept his eyes focused on the tanker cab, searching for any ?icker of movement. He couldn’t explain what was wrong, but a Klaxon alarm powered by instinct vibrated a warning through his whole body: “Something bad was about to happen.”

Matt was nearly even with the tanker when the man in its passenger seat suddenly swung open the door, jumped from the cab and ran toward the rear. A moment later, automatic gun?re crackled from behind the truck.

Matt gasped. It was happening at that very moment behind the tanker and he dared not drive past it. Twisting the steering wheel violently to the right, Matt plowed the pickup into the ditch and drove the brake pedal to the ?oor. As his body snapped forward from the sudden stop, he looked out his side window. Directly across the road, the men in the tanker cab stared down at him from twenty feet away. “They watched me the whole time,” Weston told police. In a motion that in retrospect was absurdly futile, he slowly slunk lower. With his butt overhanging the seat’s front edge, his legs contorted between the pedals and the underside of the dash, and his torso in an awkward backward lean between the steering wheel and seat back, he peered over the edge of the door and witnessed murder from the knees down.

Looking under the tanker, Matt could see only the lower legs and boots of the man who had jumped from its cab as he moved about at the rear of the truck. Another vehicle was stopped just a few feet behind the tanker and although he could see little more than the front bumper, Matt knew it was a police car. Even in midmorning sunlight, the re?ected glow of the red and blue ?ashing lights strobed the space immediately in front of it, subtly illuminating the camou?age pant legs of the man standing between the vehicles.

A second burst of shots sounded. The legs moved quickly to the left and disappeared from Matt’s view. A third burst of shots. Matt later guessed he’d heard about thirty shots in all, but at the moment he wasn’t counting. The legs reappeared. The man was running, moving swiftly back along the far side of the tanker, his boots kicking up little pu?s of dust with each step. Matt shifted higher in the seat to maintain his view under the truck as the legs came closer. The legs stopped directly across from him, then disappeared as the man climbed into the cab.

Weston knew he was going to die. “I was really scared,” he recalled. “They killed that cop and now they were going to kill me because I saw them do it.” From near point-blank range, he stared up at them, focused on the tip of the ri?e barrel held by the tanker’s driver, waiting for it to tilt downward at his head.

In the deadly silence it was the sudden scu?ng sound of gravel moving that startled him from vacant resignation. Matt’s eyes darted to the tanker’s wheels. Rock and dust arced behind them. The tires bit and the tanker shot forward, accelerating past him.
 

Matt didn’t move for several seconds, not until he fully comprehended the menace was quickly moving away from him. Pulling onto the road, he slowly drove past the police car. “I didn’t see anyone inside but the car was full of bullet holes,” Weston reported. In his rearview mirror, he watched the water truck speed up the hill as he sped to the Circle S station and called 911.

Evelyn Pearson, a sixty-eight-year-old grandmother, knew the driver of the silver SUV ahead of her was her neighbor Matt Weston. Matt had been backing out of his driveway as she got in her car and she’d been a short distance behind him since turning onto County Road 27. Knowing Matt was just sixteen, she didn’t think there was too much he could do behind the wheel that would surprise her. But he did.

“I couldn’t ?gure out what Matt was doing, slowing way down like that, then driving into the ditch,” Evelyn said. But as she approached the vehicles, she too slowed and then stopped, right in the middle of the tra?c lane, a few feet before the tanker. She locked eyes with the man climbing back into the cab of the truck. “He knew I got a good look at him. We made eye contact and held it,” Pearson told police as she described the suspect.

As the tanker pulled onto the road and passed alongside her, Evelyn saw the police car that had been behind it. What she did next would leave her traumatized.

Memory of the morning’s events would fragment and slip deep into her subconscious mind, to resurface as small pieces of terror in nightmares and ?ashbacks triggered by seeing a tanker truck on the highway or a police car on the side of the road. It would be several weeks of such episodes before she could assemble a cohesive recollection of that morning, up to the last thing she did that day on McElmo Bridge—“I pulled alongside the police car; got out; walked up and looked in.”

Copyright © 2013 by Dan Schultz.

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Dan Schultz is an award-winning journalist and business writer. He received his M.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota and worked as a reporter and feature writer for daily newspapers in Minnesota and Oregon covering crime stories before he began writing for magazines and television. Dan currently resides in Aspen, Colorado, where he assists his wife, Lynda, in managing the world-renowned independent bookstore Explore Booksellers.

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