Closure of the Coquihalla Highway between Merritt and Hope on Wednesday (Nov. 23) involved a traffic stop involving gang enforcement police officers pulling over a stolen vehicle, RCMP have confirmed.
Mounties found a stolen black Dodge Ram pickup at about 12:15 p.m. on Nov. 23, travelling on the Coquihalla just north of the summit, in the Juliet Bridge area, about 45 minutes south of Merritt. According to police, commercial truck drivers located the stolen vehicle and relayed this information to the RCMP.
Police pulled the vehicle over, but the driver took off, travelling down a side road off the highway. The truck then became stuck and three people ran from the vehicle. Witnesses reported seeing one of the suspects in possession of a firearm. More than a dozen construction workers at a nearby Trans Mountain pipeline expansion worksite were evacuated as they were in close proximity to the last know sighting of the suspects, according to police.
Merritt RCMP officers, along with the Southeast District emergency response team, responded to the area and began searching for the suspects. One of those sought, a woman, was arrested shortly after the chase began, but two male suspects remained at large until being found and arrested at about 6 p.m. Police say they were apprehended without incident.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the highway was closed for several hours while we searched the area for these suspects” acting Merritt RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Josh Roda said. “Without knowing their identities or their intentions, and reports indicating they were armed, we felt it was best to keep all members of the public from the scene.”
The highway was closed at about 2:30 p.m. and opened after 6 p.m.
According to police, the black Dodge Ram 2500 they were driving was stolen out of Coquitlam and the licence plate attached to the vehicle was stolen out of Langley. According to Roda, it’s unclear at this time if the three suspects are connected to the recent police incidents in Merritt and Coquitlam.
In Merritt last week, police responded to a pair of shootings on two separate days, an alleged hostage-taking the same day as the second shooting and utilized the ERT to assist in multiple searches, leading to the arrest of four people.
Coquitlam was the scene of a shootout with police in on Nov. 22 , which happened after a group of people tried to rob an auto dealership. And, on Nov. 23,t people died and one was wounded after a targeted gangland shooting in the Lower Mainland city.
“We are aware of the online speculation on the identities of these suspects. Although we are in the preliminary stages of this investigation, there is no indication that these suspects are related to any recent high-profile events in the Lower Mainland or Merritt” Roda said.