Man appears in court after shootings on Beeline

Posted at 1:49 PM, May 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-26 13:43:30-04

A gunman armed with a rifle, body armor and extra ammunition opened fire at cars on a highway in the Phoenix outskirts, leaving at least two people injured before police captured him near a stolen car that crashed into a ditch, authorities said Wednesday.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officials identified the suspect as James David Walker, 36, of San Tan Valley.

Walker made his first court appearance late Wednesday night, and he faces preliminary charges of aggravated assault, armed robbery, resisting arrest and possession of dangerous drugs.

It wasn't immediately clear if Walker had hired a lawyer.

Police say Walker carjacked a vehicle at a gas station and shot at a state trooper's cruiser during a manhunt Tuesday night. The officer was not injured, but authorities said one person was grazed on the head with a bullet and another was hit in the leg during the highway shootings.

Wednesday afternoon, Rural Metro tweeted that one of its employees was the victim who was grazed by a bullet. Rural Metro identified him as Chris Ellis.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Ellis with a down payment for a car because his caught fire and was destroyed in the shooting.

There was no indication the gunfire was tied to a series of shootings on Phoenix-area freeways that gained national attention last August and September. They were concentrated on different freeways and in the heart of the city. That case is unsolved after prosecutors dropped charges against a suspect who spent seven months in jail.

Tuesday night the bizarre series of crimes began unfolding when drivers called 911 saying a man fired at them with a rifle or "machine gun," said Capt. Damon Cecil, a DPS spokesman.

DPS said six vehicles were struck by gunfire including one trooper's vehicle that was shot several times.

Authorities believe the gunman was shooting at passing cars from a vehicle or the side of State Route 87, also known as the Beeline Highway, which hugs Phoenix's eastern suburbs and heads to cities in northeastern Arizona.

"This is an active investigation with additional victims whose cars were struck by bullets," Cecil said.

Troopers responding to emergency calls about the shootings found the victims. One sought his own medical attention for a minor grazing injury. Another was taken to a hospital for a leg wound that was not life-threatening, Cecil said.

Troopers say the gunman drove to a gas station, stole a car at gunpoint and fled. During the search, the man fired several shots that hit a trooper's patrol vehicle before officers lost track of him for about three hours, Cecil said.

Walker was arrested after a police helicopter spotted the stolen car in a ditch off the highway. Officers found him lying on the ground in a fetal position, with an AR-15 rifle, body armor and numerous magazines of ammunition nearby, Cecil said.