A high-speed chase of a reported stolen car on Highway 97 Sunday morning ended with a barefoot suspect running into a Redmond hotel, prompting police to surround the building and conduct a methodical room-by-room search -- ending in success. thanks in part to a flushing toilet.
Around 8:20 a.m., a Deschutes River Woods resident called Deschutes County sheriff's 911 to report a red Dodge Charger heading north on Highway 97 south of Bend at a very high rate of speed, said sheriff's Lt. Kevin Dizney
Corey Esson said he was getting on Highway 97 at Baker Road on a quiet Sunday morning, with typically light traffic for that time of day.
"I look in my mirror, and all of a sudden, this car comes out of nowhere," Esson said. "I'm thinking, 'He'll move over. He'll move over' -- and he never moved over. He pushed me over into the bike lane. He went by me so darn fast, he must have been going 90 to 100 (mph)."
Esson said he called 911; Dizney said an area check didn't turn up the car.
Esson then said he got a call back around noon from a sheriff's deputy seeking more information. He said he was told the car had been stolen out of Central California about three weeks ago. Esson said the car had no license plates, only the "dealer plate" used on car lots.
Shortly after 10 a.m., a sheriff's deputy spotted the car speeding north on Highway 97 near Deschutes Junction, about halfway between Bend and Redmond, Dizney said.
The deputy estimated the car was going 90-plus mph, Dizney said. A second deputy, farther north near Redmond, clocked the car with radar at 96 mph, then pursued the car at speeds reaching 125 mph, until it reached Redmond and slowed to about 40 mph.
While trying to navigate through light traffic, the car tried to pass on the right shoulder of the road, but it left the pavement and crashed into the ditch, knocking down an address marker and coming to rest.
The driver then ran across the highway to the front of the Best Western Plus Rama Inn at 2630 SW 17th Place, Dizney said. He was seen running around the front of the hotel before he was believed to have entered through an unlocked door at the rear of the building.
Sheriff's deputies, Redmond police and Oregon State Police soon surrounded the hotel, roping it off with crime scene tape, as many officers were seen with their guns drawn or out and the search began -- one that would last more than three hours.
Officers escorted about a half-dozen hotel workers to a secure area on the first floor -- at first, housekeepers had been told to stay locked in the rooms they were working in.
About 15 of the hotel's 74 rooms were registered to guests Sunday morning, and police quickly checked on them by phone, finding only a few were occupied. Most were not answering, and the guests in one left; people still in another room were advised to stay inside with their door locked and away from windows.
Around 11:30 a.m., a female guest in a room asked if she could leave to go to work, and police escorted her out to her car.
A police command post was set up at the nearby Redmond Cinemas The area that includes Miller Lumber and a Burger King was taped off and blocked; several businesses were alerted to what was going on.
Dizney said the sheriff's office Special Operations Team conducted the room-to-room search.
Witnesses reportedly told police they saw no weapons on the suspect as he ran toward the hotel. Police were checking nearby stores and a bank with security cameras that could have video to help in the investigation.
Of course, all the police action drew lots of onlookers wondering what was going on.
"Well, we were just driving going to the pumpkin patch and we saw a bunch of cop cars and we decided to pull over and see what was happening," said Spencer Wallace. "I was hoping to see some action and there's a lot of guns out -- it was pretty intimidating."
"I was hoping everybody was okay," said Mariah Taunton. "Obviously, when you're driving by and you see an officer with a rifle drawn -- I mean, you're going to worry about some people. Hopefully they don't get shot."
Around 1:45 p.m. came word a man matching the description was in custody, having been found in the bathroom of Room 205, according to Dizney.
California fugitive Jacob Christopher Torrez, 30, was captured without further incident, Dizney said, and was led out of the hotel to a waiting police car.
Dizney said that while they were searching every room, "There was a sound of a toilet flushing that gave the search team an indicator that they might be close. But they searched that room and didn't find him."
"Or could it be where they heard the sound, it wasn't coming from the right place?" the lieutenant said. "But the suspect was ultimately found nearby, so it's entirely possible that the noise was made by him."
The car, a 2011 Dodge Charger, had been reported stolen in Tulare, Calif. Dizney said a small amount of drugs was found in the car, and more possible charges are being investigated.
Alcohol is not believed to be a factor in the incident, he said, and investigators are looking to determine if drugs played a role.
Torrez was held without bail at the Deschutes County Jail in Bend on a fugitive warrant out of California, as well as new local charges of car theft, reckless driving, second-degree criminal trespass, drug possession and attempting to elude police, by vehicle and on foot.
Why did it take close to three hours to search 74 hotel rooms?
"Just a matter of, were we correct in our initial assumption that he had gone in there?" said Dizney. "And we were all very in strong belief of that. So, ultimately it was just about getting to the right room in time, and it's a very slow process to go room by room, to do it safely. I'm very proud of the deputies, the Redmond Police Department, OSP for how they handled that."
Those watching the drama unfold also were glad it turned out it did.
"I was just relieved that everybody seemed to come out fine, and nobody was hurt, and it was a calm situation," said Sue Humphrey. "Well, it's Redmond -- you don't see this kind of action around here, with so many cops in one area, just curiosity takes over. I just figured it was a big incident, because there was so many police here. And rumors got started in the parking lot that it was a hostage situation -- it kind of unfolds in front of you."