BENSON — Cochise County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to an incident at a Mescal restaurant west of Benson around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday where a “suspicious subject” was acting erratically and claimed to have a bomb strapped to the roof of his vehicle.
The incident resulted in a multi-agency response, the temporary closure of Interstate 10 and the evacuation of Safeway Plaza in Benson until the subject was apprehended around 6 p.m.
According to CCSO spokeswoman Carol Capas, prior to deputies’ arrival at the scene in Mescal, they were advised that the subject — a 50-year-old male from California — was standing outside of his vehicle and had allowed it to roll away while claiming there was a bomb strapped to the roof.
The subject also made statements regarding “nerve gas” and continued to run behind the vehicle until it stopped in a ditch, witnesses said.
When deputies arrived on scene, they observed a white Ford Navigator parked on a bridge, which the suspect drove onto I-10, heading west. Sheriff’s deputies attempted to conduct a traffic stop but the suspect refused to yield, and was seen leaning out the door of the vehicle multiple times while driving.
Traffic on I-10 was stopped by Arizona Department of Public Safety officers as they assisted with tire deflation devices. The suspect drove into the median near milepost 293, made a U-turn and headed eastbound on the interstate toward Benson, still refusing to stop for law enforcement.
“DPS laid a spike strip down near milepost 301 and he got one tire spiked,” Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said. “At that point, he hit one of the DPS units, then continued to drive into Benson on Fourth Street where he went into an alley off Ocotillo Road, nearly hit a family and ran over a gas line in the alley.”
He then drove across Ocotillo Road into Safeway Plaza where he struck another vehicle.
“The suspect attempted to flee the scene on foot, but was apprehended by sheriff’s deputies and taken to the Benson Hospital for evaluation,” Dannels said.
The entire Safeway Plaza was evacuated during the incident, with employees and residents transported by a city bus to the Benson Community Center until the plaza was cleared by law enforcement and investigators.
Because of concerns about explosives and hazardous materials, I-10 exits 303 and 304 leading into Benson were closed to traffic as well as roadways in the surrounding area. The Cochise County Sheriff’s Assist Team, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Benson Fire Department, Benson Ambulance and Benson Police Department assisted with traffic control and road closures.
Members of the Arizona Department of Public Safety bomb squad and Tucson Fire Department Hazardous Materials unit also assisted.
“The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) tech, working with the DPS bomb squad, were able to use a robot to check for a bomb device, but none was found,” Capas said during an interview after the scene had been cleared. “The Tucson Fire Hazmat Team checked the vehicle as well, but no hazardous materials were found.”
The suspect was still hospitalized pending a medical evaluation as of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Once he’s released, he will be booked into the Cochise County Jail,” Capas said.
The city bus returned evacuees to Safeway Plaza where they retrieved vehicles that were left there.
Dannels extended his appreciation to all agencies involved in the incident.
“It is during an event like this that you see how important proactive professional relationships are,” the sheriff said.
The investigation is being continued by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and additional details will be released as they become available.
“We’re asking everyone who might have witnessed this incident at any point between Mescal and the pursuit to Benson, and anyone who might have video that we could view for evidence purposes, to please call the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office at 520-432-9500,” Capas said.