Suspect ambushes, kills Utah deputy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 28, 2010

PHOENIX (AP) — A fugitive thought to be hiding in the wilderness on the Arizona-Utah line laid in wait and ambushed a Utah sheriff’s deputy who was pursuing him after an attempted burglary, fatally shooting the deputy with a high-powered rifle, authorities said Friday.

Scott Curley, 23, hid beneath a tree in the small town of Fredonia just south of the Utah border and waited for two pursuing deputies to get closer, Coconino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Erika Wiltenmuth said.

That’s when Wiltenmuth said Curley raised his rifle and shot at the deputies, killing 41-year-old Kane County Deputy Brian Harris, a married father of two. Harris was hit from between 40 and 150 feet away.

Email newsletter signup

A massive manhunt was under way for Curley, who fled into the wilderness covered with rock formations and caves.

Curley was familiar with the area and may have stashed food and supplies in caves and cliffs described as ‘‘spider holes,’’ his friends told investigators.

‘‘I think he had malice in his heart, but I didn’t think it would go this far,’’ said Richard Pulliam, a neighbor of Curley in Fredonia.

Harris was shot Thursday afternoon while chasing Curley, who was suspected of trying to burglarize Fredonia High School and holding a janitor at gunpoint for an unknown period of time on Wednesday night. The janitor was unharmed, and Curley avoided authorities until the Thursday chase. He continued to elude capture Friday, and authorities were preparing for a dayslong search

‘‘He’s very mobile,’’ Wiltenmuth said. ‘‘He’s moving around a lot, and he’s very comfortable out in the wilderness. That’s what’s making it difficult to apprehend him.’’

Coconino County issued a temporary felony warrant for first-degree murder for Curley.

‘‘He has been reportedly carrying a high-powered rifle and has already shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy,’’ Wiltenmuth said. ‘‘Officer safety and citizen safety is the primary concern.’’

The manhunt included 120 law officers with 21 agencies, some in helicopters or handling tracking dogs, searching the remote desert.

Pulliam, 68, who has lived across the street from Curley and three other men since 2005, told The Associated Press that the four men would sometimes party at their house into the late-night hours or drive home drunk and pass out on the lawn before making it inside.

‘‘They’d have fights out on the streets and get to whoopin’ and hollerin’ at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning,’’ he said.

Pulliam, a retired truck driver, recalled a wedding at his house when Curley and the others allegedly went through parked cars but stopped without any problems when he asked them to leave.

‘‘They were just kids being kids, and if they were irritating or being too loud, you’d go over and talk to them,’’ he said. ‘‘They’d calm right down, say they’re sorry, that they were just having a little fun and got a little carried away.’’

Pulliam was surprised to hear Curley was suspected of killing Harris.

‘‘I never thought he was capable of this; he must have got awful mad,’’ he said.

Pulliam said he doubted Curley had any supplies stashed in the wilderness or had any type of survival skills.

‘‘I don’t think he planned that far ahead, myself,’’ he said. ‘‘I guarantee they’re going to catch him. I think he’s hungry and tired and scared.’’

Meanwhile, family and community members gathered to mourn the death of Harris at the home of his parents.

Harris is survived by his wife Shawna, 13-year-old daughter Kirsten, 10-year-old daughter Kristina, five brothers, a sister, and his parents.

‘‘His mother and I are taking it pretty rough,’’ his father, Bruce Harris, 72, told The Associated Press.

Among his children, Brian was the toughest to raise because of a rebellious side, and ‘‘he wanted to do things his way,’’ Bruce Harris said.

Yet he and his son grew closer than ever after he joined the Army, served in the Gulf War and returned to Utah to be a deputy.

‘‘He and I had the most conflict when he was young, and the way it worked out he’s the one I depended on for about everything,’’ Bruce Harris said. ‘‘He was our go-to guy in the family, and he was a pillar of the community.’’

Harris said his son most enjoyed saving people and animals as part of his job, and was the one lowered from helicopters during rescues.

‘‘He figured there was nobody better than him to put it out on the line,’’ Bruce Harris said.