Wild chase ends as elderly driver rams D-M gate — (The Arizona Daily Star)

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The Arizona Daily Star 

May 15, 1997

Author: Inger Sandal

A 71-year-old Marana man forced a motorcyclist and several cars off Interstate 10 and twice rammed a pursuing patrol car before crashing into the front gate of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Tuesday night, authorities said yesterday.

Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Turner, a 20-year veteran, suffered head injuries in the pursuit and subsequent struggle. He was reported in good condition yesterday at an undisclosed area hospital and declined comment.

The driver, Silas Ratliff, was admitted into the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation, DPS Lt. Pennie Gillette said.   “Fairly often we find disoriented elderly people or disoriented people, that for whatever reason may not have taken their medication, driving, but this kind of incident where there was so much damage and there appeared intent to hurt people was unusual,” she said.

Ratliff was driving east on Interstate 10 with his hazard lights flashing about 7:45 p.m. when he came up behind two motorcycles – ridden by Nicholas Rollison, 19, and his father, both of Tucson – Marana police Sgt. Bill Derfus said.  “(Rollison) sees him coming and thinks he may have an emergency so (he) starts to pull over into the slow lane,” Derfus said.

The 1989 Ford Aerostar passed Rollison then  “whips into the slow lane in front of the motorcycle, then slams on his brakes, and the motorcycle has no (choice) but to hit him,” Derfus said.  Rollison slid on the pavement into the median as the van accelerated and swerved, trying to hit Rollison’s father, Gillette said.   Rollison’s mother, who was following in a car, had called 911 on her mobile telephone to complain about the van’s erratic driving before her son was injured, Gillette said. Rollison was released from an area hospital yesterday afternoon.

An unidentified motorist who was nearly rammed twice near Orange Grove Road followed the van with his emergency lights flashing and tried to warn other motorists to stay away from him, Gillette said.   Turner spotted the van going east at Prince Road and dropped behind him without his lights and sirens, Gillette said. The van weaved and varied its speeds then suddenly stopped on the interstate.

Turner unfastened his seat belt and started to get out to talk to the driver when the van sped backward and rammed his patrol car, Gillette said.   Turner hit his head but pursued the van with his lights and sirens on, Gillette said. Another patrol officer joined him while other officers set up tire spikes across I-10 near Drexel Road and on Interstate 19 near Valencia Road, Gillette said.

The van stopped again, but this time Turner parked against its bumper so the driver was unable to ram the car. The van then resumed its flight east with the officers in pursuit, she said.

As they approached I-19, Turner pulled to the right of the van to keep it from turning, Gillette said. The van swerved into the patrol car but stayed on I-10 until the driver swerved off the Alvernon Way exit.

The driver ran the red light at the bottom of the ramp then turned north under the watch of a Tucson police helicopter.   The van sped north about 70 mph, weaving in and out of traffic, until it reached Craycroft and Golf Links roads, where the driver turned into the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base gates.   Officers tried to climb inside the van to grab the keys when Ratliff got stuck in traffic, Gillette said. Turner was reaching through the driver’s window when the driver hit the accelerator and the van crashed into the gate post, she said.

The van dragged Turner about 10 yards and a side mirror struck another officer, Gillette said. Ratliff continued to struggle after officers managed to switch off the ignition.  Marana police plan to file assault charges, and the DPS will continue to investigate and will present the case to the Pima County Attorney’s Office for review.

“There’s lots of places and lots of agencies involved and lots of witnesses are still calling in,” Gillette said.   Investigators need to determine “if there’s a medical reason for this or if it’s just because he’s strictly wanting to be a hazard,” she said.

Ratliff’s family told investigators that he had been taking medication for depression, Gillette said. His son said he recently came to Tucson to visit Ratliff because neighbors had been increasingly concerned.

A retired Navy petty officer, Ratliff had gone to the Davis-Monthan commissary earlier Tuesday.  “His son said that he left the house (that evening) saying he was going outside for a moment and never came back.”

Copyright 1997, 1999 The Arizona Daily Star