Car plunges 200 feet off bridge in the Gorge, driver missing

A Honda is submerged in the Virgin River after plunging 200 feet off a cliff near southbound Interstate 15 in the Virgin River Gorge,, Mohave County, Ariz., May 31, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire District, St.George News

ST. GEORGE A suspect wanted in connection with an alleged sex offense with a minor in Hurricane fled from police Friday, and shortly after entering Arizona the man’s vehicle drove off a cliff and plunged hundreds of feet before crashing into the Virgin River.

The incident began at 8 a.m. when Hurricane Police officers responded to a report of a sexual offense involving a man and a juvenile female, Hurricane Police officer Ken Thompson said in a statement released Friday evening.

Officers were told the suspect fled the area shortly before their arrival. An “attempt to locate” alert was broadcast to officers in the area to be on the lookout for a silver Honda Accord that was spotted several hours later heading south on Interstate 15. When the officer attempted to stop the car, the suspect fled and officers pursued.

The chase continued for several miles reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph until the car crossed into Arizona and the pursuit was terminated, Thompson said.

Meanwhile, Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers, who also received the alert, were making preparations at the bottom of the Virgin River Gorge, Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper Tom Callister said.

“Then we got the call from St. George Police saying the car was in Arizona and Utah terminated the pursuit, but we never spotted the car,” he said.

A helicopter was launched to assist in the search while a witness told troopers she spotted a silver car “going at an extremely high rate of speed.”

A Honda is pulled from the Virgin River after plunging 200 feet near southbound Interstate 15 in the Virgin River Gorge, Mohave County, Ariz., May 31, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire District, St.George News

A short time later officers located the vehicle approximately 200 feet below the bridge at mile marker 22 upside-down and partially submerged in the Virgin River, with only a rear wheel sticking out from the water.

“It appears the car went off the road and continued another 200 yards on the dirt embankment before it went off the cliff and plunged into the Virgin River,” Callister said, “and not a single skid mark was found. ”

The vertical drop is about 200 feet from top to bottom, he added.

Washington County Search and Rescue deployed a swift-water team as emergency crews from Beaver Dam Littlefield Fire District hiked down to the bottom of the deep ravine to possibly check on the driver, Callister said. St. George firefighters also responded to assist.

When they reached the bottom, however, the swiftness of the river prevented them from accessing the vehicle, and once the swift-water team arrived and were able to reach the it, rescuers found it empty.

“At this point we don’t have a driver, he is missing and we don’t know his whereabouts or his condition,” Callister said.

Extensive search efforts continued for hours and involved multiple agencies from both states on the ground and in the air.

Tow trucks pulled the car up from the river, an operation that took “hours,” Callister said. “I’ve never seen a car with that much damage. I mean it was obliterated.”

The search for the driver continues.

Arizona Highway Patrol, Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire District, Washington County Search and Rescue, St. George Fire Department and the Bureau of Land Management assisted at the scene.

This report is based on statements from police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact. 

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.




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