Iowa murder/kidnap suspect captured south of Philip Sunday morning, two sheriff vehicles destroyed in high speed chase
The body of Judy Petersen, 36, was discovered at approximately 9:00 p.m. Saturday, June 4, at her home in Greene, Butler County, Iowa.
Thomas Petersen, 39, was a suspect in the murder. The couple's two older children, a 17-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter, were accounted for. Their two-year-old son, Jacob Duncan Petersen, was missing. At approximately 12:40 a.m., an Amber Alert was issued, which listed Petersen as armed and dangerous.
Petersen was tracked getting fuel in eastern South Dakota, and later in Jackson County.
At approximately 6:30 a.m., a Badlands National Park ranger recognized the vehicle as the one described in the Amber Alert. From Cactus Flat, the ranger began pursuit of the red 2006 Ford F-150.
Jackson County Sheriff Raymond Clements, Jr., was awakened at 6:00 a.m., Sunday, June 5, hearing that a suspect had been in Kadoka. Clements called the Pennington County Sheriff's office and learned of the alert and that they had tracked Petersen's credit card usage to Kadoka. The sheriff said he looked around Kadoka for the vehicle, then called state radio.
At 6:30 a.m. Clements learned that a Badlands National Park Ranger had spotted Petersen at exit 127 on Interstate 90. Petersen had taken off on a gravel road, turned around, got on I-90 and headed east.
Clements headed west and met the suspect's vehicle at the 134 mile marker. He turned around and followed. Clements said he let the ranger take the lead as he had a faster vehicle.
Calling for more assistance, Clements called in his deputy, Tim Nutley, Kadoka Chief of Police Woody Davis and South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Clay Kartak.
When the three vehicles reached the Philip exit, Petersen headed north on Highway 73.
"He slowed his speed down to 75-80 miles per hour," Clements said. Clements was calling Trooper Slade Ross to ask that spikes be set up to apprehend the suspect, when he saw that Petersen had slammed on his brakes in an attempt to disable the park ranger's vehicle.
"I decided to go around both of them," Clements said. "I was still in the southbound lane passing and Petersen rammed into the back end of my pickup. Then I got real nervous and backed off to let Petersen go ahead." Petersen swerved over into Clements' lane and sideswiped him, so Clements backed off even more.
"He (Petersen) was motioning toward the seat that he had a boy with him in the pickup," Clements stated. When Petersen rolled down his window to adjust his mirror, Clements said he motioned for Petersen to stop. "He just shook his head no," he added.
Clements tried to get ahead of Petersen again and Petersen swerved this time, striking the back end of the sheriff's pickup.
"When that happened I turned 180 degrees on the highway and went to the ditch," he said. "I thought this is going to hurt bad." When he hit the ditch he started rolling. "It seemed like forever," Clements recalled. When he finally stopped rolling and came to rest on his wheels, he was able to get out.
He said that he could not even look at his 2008 Ford pickup, but noticed his toolbox halfway between the road and his pickup so he took his phone and sat on the toolbox.
Meanwhile, down the road, the park ranger picked up the boy after seeing Petersen let his son out of the pickup. The ranger backtracked to check on the sheriff.
"I'm fine, where's the boy?" Clements asked the ranger. "You bring him down here with me and you get after the suspect."
Davis, who had been waiting at the 150 mile marker, joined Clements and the boy. By then more law enforcement were at the scene.
Haakon County Sheriff Mel Smith said that after he received the call from the Winner dispatch office, he headed south on Highway 73. When he heard that the child was in the custody of Clements, he thought the suspect had been apprehended and began to reduce his speed.
Because of that, Smith said, when he first saw the pickup approaching, he at first thought it was another vehicle, not the one in question. As the vehicles neared each other, about one-half mile south of the Haakon-Jackson county line, Smith said Petersen began to pull over into Smith's lane. Smith said he continued to pull to the right to avoid the collision, but Petersen continued to pull further toward the sheriff's Durango.
Smith said they just missed meeting head on; instead Petersen's pickup ran down the driver's side of the Durango, pushing the Durango into the west road ditch. Petersen's vehicle also entered the road ditch, and stopped about 200 to 300 yards past Smith's vehicle, which stopped in a draw. Petersen's pickup then started on fire. Smith estimated he was driving at 90 mph at impact, and that Petersen was traveling at approximately 80 mph.
Smith said Petersen left his vehicle and began to approach him before going up to the highway, headed north. Smith said the call had come in that Petersen was possibly armed. He could not tell if the man was armed, but that he had his hand in his shirt.
When Nutley responded, he saw a man walking on the side of the road. "I thought I saw what was a gun, but it turned out to be a piece of plastic molding," said Nutley.
Clements said he was asked to tell Petersen over the radio that his son was okay. Then Petersen turned his back just enough for a Pennington County deputy to taser him.
Smith said Petersen was arrested in Jackson County, about 100 yards from the county line. The Philip police department was in position at the city limits in case Peterson got that far, and to stop south-bound traffic.
During this time, approximately 20 first responder vehicles were at the scene. Of those, there were three Pennington County Sheriff Department units, the Badlands National Park unit, two Bennett County units, Kadoka police, Philip police, three highway patrol units, two South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) units, Interior rescue unit, Kadoka ambulance, two Philip fire trucks and two Philip ambulances.
Nutley transported Petersen to Rapid City, where Petersen is currently being held in the Pennington County jail. Clements was transported to Rapid City Regional Hospital, having sustained three broken ribs. Smith was checked at the Philip hospital and released with only cuts and bruises. The two-year-old child was recovered unharmed and put in the custody of the South Dakota Department of Social Services. Formal charges will be filed against Petersen by the Jackson County states attorney's office. The South Dakota Highway Patrol will reconstruct speeds. The DCI is investigating the incident. All vehicles were seized as evidence.
The Amber Alert was cancelled. The arrest was made at 7:20 a.m., approximately eight hours and 500 miles from where the Amber Alert originated.
The Philip Volunteer Fire Department put out the vehicle fire, helped direct civilian traffic, and also cleared away the debris of the crashes and the fire. They, as were all participants, in danger, not knowing what the situation entailed. When arriving at the scene, the firemen drove by Petersen, who was still walking north on the shoulder of the highway.
"I appreciate the help from the other law enforcement officers, and helping them and how it all came together," said Smith.
Highway Patrol District Commander Kevin Karley said, "It was a multi-agency pursuit, but officers were able to remain in direct radio communication. It is a good example of how well the rural departments work together in South Dakota."
Spokesperson for the Badlands National Park, Jennie Albrinck, said "All the officers worked together and safety was paramount. It was a wonderful display of teamwork and respect across agency lines."
After returning from the hospital Monday, Clements said, "I don't understand how a person can endanger a two-year-old like that."
"I will never forget the look on his (the boy's) face," said Davis. He said the boy was bewildered, but seemed to be okay when he was with Clements.
Looking back on the Sunday morning chase and arrest, Clements said he is so thankful no one was seriously injured. He could not say enough good about all the departments which had a part in the capture of Thomas Petersen.