By Tim Eberly
A Box Elder man led six law enforcement agencies in a high-speed pursuit Thursday that started in Havre and halted north of Great Falls when the Montana Highway Patrol employed spikes to flatten his tires on U.S. Highway 87.
Cody Allen Rivas, 19, allegedly stole a white Dodge pickup from the parking lot of a local bar and led an array of officers through three counties Hill, Chouteau and Cascade before he was apprehended, Havre police Capt. Mike Barthel said.
Officers from the Havre Police Department, the Hill County Sheriff's Office, the Rocky Boy Police Department, the Chouteau County Sheriff's Office and the Cascade County Sheriff's Office collaborated during the approximately 130-mile pursuit in snowy and icy road conditions.
It was the highway patrol that eventually halted Rivas four miles north of Great Falls, Hill County sheriff's deputy Steve Marden said.
The chase lasted almost two hours, starting at 4:41 p.m. and ending at 6:25 p.m., Barthel said.
Rivas, who was the only occupant of the vehicle, is being held in the Cascade County Detention Center on $960 bond and has an appearance in Justice Court today. Prosecutors charged him with reckless eluding, driving under the influence and driving without a license. No weapons were found in the vehicle.
Hill County law enforcement officers were not the first to embark on the pursuit. The male owner of the Dodge pickup and another witness initiated the chase, pursuing Rivas through Havre after they noticed that Rivas had taken the vehicle from the parking lot of the Golden Spike Lounge & Liquor Store.
The owner of the vehicle had returned to the Golden Spike to retrieve his coat and left his vehicle running in the parking lot.
"The bartender noted that his truck was leaving with another person in it," said Barthel.
The witness offered to drive the owner in order to follow Rivas, who had not been drinking inside the Golden Spike before the alleged theft. The man and witness, who communicated with Hill County dispatchers with a cell phone, ceased their pursuit when officers arrived and continued the chase as the suspect traveled south of Havre on Fifth Avenue. The owner went to the police department to provide a statement.
Havre police unsuccessfully attempted to prevent Rivas from fleeing Havre when an officer used his vehicle to block Rivas's path in the 1700 block of Fifth Avenue. "He appeared to veer toward the vehicle," Barthel said. After that incident, officers maintained a safe distance from Rivas.
Driving as fast as 95 mph and as slow as 55 mph Rivas drove about 23 miles south on Fifth Avenue, which becomes state Route 234 out of Havre, and turned right onto Taylor Road. He traveled about 25 miles across Taylor Road to U.S. Highway 87, and continued south.
Two Havre police vehicles stopped pursuit of Rivas when he reached the border of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, at which time two Rocky Boy police officers picked up the chase. One Hill County Sheriff's Office vehicle, which contained two deputies, followed Rivas down to Fort Benton.
"We started running out of gas around Fort Benton, so we had to quit," Marden said today.
By that time, Chouteau County deputies were following Rivas as well.
In Loma, a Chouteau County deputy planned to lay spikes on the road to stop Rivas, but the officer's vehicle sustained a flat tire, Marden said.
Throughout his pursuit, Marden maintained a one-mile distance from Rivas. "We could see him most of the time," he said. "He was driving pretty erratically."
Driving through Big Sandy, Rivas passed a Chouteau County deputy, who was driving in front of him, on the right-side shoulder. Marden also said Rivas put other drivers in danger.
"All I heard was the Chouteau County deputies saying he was driving people off the road," Marden said.
After Rivas faces charges in Cascade County, he will return to Hill County to face separate charges. Hill County Deputy Attorney Cyndee Faus is awaiting an assessment of the damages to the owner's vehicle before charges can be filed, she said.
Barthel said if the damage to the tires is above $1,000, Rivas will likely be charged with felony criminal mischief in addition to theft charges.