Washington County Sheriff’s Office body cam footage; Utah Department of Public Safety aerial footage
KANAB – A Kanab woman is without a vehicle after her Mitsubishi Lancer was stolen and subsequently totaled in a high-speed chase spanning two counties Tuesday night. The man who allegedly stole the vehicle was arrested Tuesday and, in addition to several charges relating to the vehicle theft and subsequent high-speed chase, received additional charges Wednesday after deputies discovered he had given them a false name and birthdate at the time of his arrest.
For Ericka Reber, of Kanab, an ordinary evening turned disastrous Tuesday as she finished loading newly washed laundry into her Mitsubishi Lancer.
“I was doing my boyfriend’s laundry and I’d just put all my stuff in my car,” she said.
Reber said she briefly went back inside her mother’s house, and that’s when a stranger approached the home. Her mother was in the kitchen and saw a man pull up in a gold Kia.
“He said he was looking for Mike or Michael or something like that,” Reber said.
Her mom told the man there wasn’t a Michael living there, but her daughter would be outside soon and might be able to help him find who he was looking for. The next thing she knew, the man had gotten inside her daughter’s Lancer and was speeding away.
“He revved the engine up first,” Reber said.
After the man drove off in the car, local authorities were called, and the incident soon turned into a high-speed chase as Kane County officers pursued him.
The man was chased from Kanab to Zion National Park, through the park, through Springdale and Virgin and eventually into Toquerville, with other law enforcement agencies joining to assist in the chase. Spikes were put down in Virgin, but the man ran over them and kept going despite damage to the car’s tires.
Once the chase reached the LaVerkin area, officers funneled the car toward Toquerville at the intersection of state Route 17 and state Route 9, according to a probable cause statement filed by Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Wilson. In Toquerville, pursuing deputies were finally able to stop the car.
“I was in front of the pursuit warning on coming traffic coming into the city of Toquerville,” Wilson wrote in the statement. “As we went through town (the) pursuing vehicle got a head of me and I was able to perform the PIT maneuver. The vehicle came to rest on the bridge going over Ash Creek.”
The Lancer was totaled in the crash that resulted from the maneuver. At that point, the man driving the vehicle jumped out of the car and ran. He was pursued on foot and was finally apprehended and arrested.
At the time of his arrest, the man told officers his name was Austin Gomez, and he was subsequently booked and charged under that name. As the incident was investigated, however, information was found indicating the man’s name was actually Oscar Manuel Flores.
“(A sergeant) researched the information and found a driver’s license for Oscar Manuel Flores out of Arizona,” Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brock Bentley wrote in a probable cause statement supporting additional charges against Flores. “The driver’s license was found to have a photo that was very similar to Gomez. Gomez was fingerprinted in booking and the prints were submitted to the FBI. A matching record for the fingerprints came back showing the person was in fact Oscar Flores.”
A criminal history report showed “Austin Gomez” is an alias that Flores has previously used. In addition to the false name, the birthdate he gave officers at the time of his arrest was two days off from the birthdate listed for Oscar Flores, Bentley wrote in the statement. Bentley also discovered Flores had been driving on a suspended Arizona driver’s license at the time of the vehicle theft and subsequent chase.
Flores had originally been booked on one second-degree felony charge for vehicle theft; one third-degree felony charge for failure to respond to an officer’s signal to stop; one class A misdemeanor for failure to stop at an officer’s command; and one class A misdemeanor for criminal mischief. On Wednesday, additional charges were added: one class B misdemeanor for driving on a suspended license and one class C misdemeanor for giving false personal information to police.
As this report is published, Flores remains in custody at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility.
Reber said she’s been told the gold Kia Flores left at her home at the time he stole her car had been stolen from an elderly woman in Tucson, Arizona.
“Some little old handicapped lady,” she said.
Kanab City Police Chief Tom Cram confirmed that the Kia was stolen from an elderly woman in Tucson. As this report is published, the Kia is being held at an impound lot, but Cram said the owner of the vehicle has been notified.
Reber said she’d only owned the Lancer for about two years at the time Flores stole it, and she was still making payments on the vehicle. She is currently driving a rental car while insurance matters are taken care of regarding her totaled Lancer. She said the value of the car was less than she owed on it, so she’s not sure what will happen regarding the insurance settlement, and she doesn’t know how much money she’ll end up with to help her purchase a new car.
“I’m going to have to wait a couple of months and get a down payment ready,” she said.
Reber’s best friend has started a GoFundMe account to help Reber replace her car.
Gomez’s next court appearance is scheduled for Monday, according to court documents.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
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