Yavapai County: Suspect sought near Bearizona caught in ditch

Posted at 12:26 PM, Mar 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-28 20:39:57-04

Officials have caught an armed suspect after an hours-long search that prompted a lockdown at the Bearizona wildlife park near Williams Monday.

According to Bearizona officials, the park was locked down around 11:30 a.m. Monday while authorities searched for a "dangerous" individual last seen in the area.

"A lot of people thought it was an animal that had gotten loose, then we found out that it was an actual manhunt going on," said park visitor Winona Cischillie. "Some of the workers were telling us we just need to stay calm, stay in the gift shop and they locked the doors.”

"As we were leaving the area, we saw about 20 cop cars and then we saw the red car in the ditch that the suspect had fled from," Cischillie told ABC15.

The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office says just before 11 a.m., a K-9 unit tried to stop a car for a traffic violation on Interstate 40 in the Ash Fork area. The vehicle pulled over and then sped away. A passenger attempting to exit the moving vehicle was dragged for a distance, suffering serious injuries.

The driver of the car, 31-year-old John Freeman continued along I-40, firing a handgun out of the passenger window, hitting the side of a motorhome. Deputies pursued the vehicle, which was traveling at speeds up to 120 mph.

When the vehicle came toward the Williams area around 100 mph, the car began experiencing issues and Freeman tried to jump out. He was dragged by the car and crashed into a tree, but was able to flee on foot into the forest.

Another passenger in the car, 30-year-old Gideon Eads, tried to flee, but was caught by deputies within a few minutes.

Freeman hopped fences and fired several shots toward the ground and at a deputy following him. He hid from deputies for several hours before he was taken into custody unarmed.

Freeman told authorities that he was aware the vehicle was stolen, reported out of Kingman with fake plates. He also admitted to firing a gun out of the vehicle window and smoking methamphetamines with a pipe found in the car. He also showed deputies where he hid the gun.

YCSO says Freeman had a previous felony conviction from Oregon for vehicle theft and a warrant for drug charges out of Kingman.

Eads was booked into jail for vehicle theft. Freeman was booked into jail for aggravated assault on a peace officer, aggravated assault causing serious injury, drive-by shooting, discharging a firearm at a structure, endangerment, vehicle theft, fleeing pursuing law enforcement, drug paraphernalia possession and prohibited firearms possession.

The passenger injured after jumping out of the car during the pursuit appears to have only hitched a ride in the vehicle and was not charged. 

Bearizona spokesperson Jocelyn Monteverde said around 2:30 p.m. that police were able to clear staffers and visitors who had been kept inside the park as they investigated. Schools in the area were also placed on temporary lockdown.