Chase suspect tied to freeway copycat shootings

Posted at 10:29 PM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-02 00:29:03-05

A man accused of copycatting the Phoenix freeway shootings with a slingshot three months ago was arrested Tuesday after a stolen car he was driving burst into flames in Mesa following a police pursuit, authorities said.

Christian Cook, 19, was taken into custody after Tuesday morning's incident that ended in a dirt lot near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

The car, reported stolen on Monday, then burst into flames as friction from its spinning wheels set brush under the vehicle on fire, authorities said.

The Honda looked like a piece of “charcoal” after the fire, said Matthew Green, the car’s owner.

Air15 video showed several police agencies in the field by the vehicle, which had flames billowing from the engine. Firefighters were seen attempting to put out the fire with an extinguisher, but the fire grew until the entire vehicle was consumed in flames.

Green's blood was "boiling" as he made his way to the scene, but soon made peace with the incident, he said. 

Green met Cook on a camping trip but did not otherwise know him, Green said. Green had no idea who stole the car before finding out about the fire on Facebook, he said.  Green was not sure whether or not the keys were left in the vehicle before the theft, but said the car was locked.

Cook likely will face multiple charges in Maricopa and Pinal counties, authorities said. It was unclear Tuesday evening if he had a lawyer yet.

The Tuesday morning saga began when Pinal County Sheriff's Office dispatchers got a call about a suspicious car in a San Tan Valley neighborhood, spokesman Mark Clark said.

A deputy found the car parked and the driver passed out at the wheel. The car then drove off, starting the chase into Maricopa County.

Cook and two other teens were arrested in September for allegedly firing rocks at pedestrians and vehicles in southeast Mesa.

Authorities called the three copycats and said the slingshot incidents weren't related to the 11 shootings that occurred on Phoenix-area freeways between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10 in which eight cars were hit with bullets and three were struck with projectiles such as BBs or pellets.

County prosecutors have yet to file charges against Cook in the slingshot incident and have asked investigators for more information. No one answered the door at Cook's address listed on prior court paperwork.

Green, who did not have full insurance on the now burned-out car, has set up a fundraising page in hopes of buying another vehicle.  For now, he said he will borrow his sister's car to get to work.