By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) – A manhunt for an armed fugitive that triggered the evacuation of a popular wildlife park south of the Grand Canyon ended peacefully on Monday with the arrest of the suspect, police in Arizona said.
The accused gunman was believed to have possibly fled into the Bearizona Wildlife Park after a confrontation with police that began as a traffic stop and turned into a high-speed chase, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said.
One passenger was thrown from the car during a getaway attempt, a second man was taken into custody when the car crashed, but a third fled on foot, firing at least one shot toward deputies from a handgun, according to the spokesman, Dwight D’Evelyn.
The suspect disappeared near the Bearizona park, a 168-acre private attraction nestled within the Kaibab National Forest at the edge of Williams, a gateway town to Grand Canyon National Park about 60 miles away.
As a precaution, Bearizona was closed and evacuated, with police escorting all 200 visitors and about 20 staff safely from the facility, spokeswoman Jocelyn Monteverde said. Public schools in Williams were also placed on lockdown during the manhunt, police said.
At about 6 p.m. local time, nearly six hours after the search began, police located the suspect, identified as John Freeman, in a highway culvert near Bearizona, and he was arrested without incident, D’Evelyn said.
Police said Freeman was wanted on a warrant from nearby Kingman, Arizona, but no further information about him was immediately released.
Bearizona is visited by some 300,000 tourists a year, many on their way to or from the Grand Canyon, located about an hour’s drive to the north, Monteverde said. It features a collection of bears, wolves, bison and other wildlife, some roaming a drive-through exhibit and others displayed in smaller zoo-like enclosures.
(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)