JUAB COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – The full story has been released regarding a routine traffic stop in Western Utah that ended with a stolen police vehicle and gunfire.
The official complaint, complete with testimony from a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, was unsealed this week, detailing the circumstances of James Klein’s arrest on May 19, 2021, after he led police on a high-speed chase and wounded a bystander with a gun he stole from a police vehicle.
According to the statement, Klein was awaiting trial for an incident in Minnesota in which he fired a weapon at police while attempting to escape after buying and potentially shoplifting a large amount of ammunition at a Walmart in March 2020. The charges he was facing in Minnesota added to what was already a laundry list of criminal convictions for Klein, including an 80-month term in prison for a drug charge and 60 months for a gun charge.
When Utah law enforcement pulled Klein and his female passenger over in May, officers requested permission to search his vehicle, which was granted. To begin the search, Klein was placed in the passenger seat of the Juab County deputy’s SUV, with the woman waiting outside, in front of the police vehicle.
As the search for contraband began, Klein took control of the SUV and sped down I-15, and attempted to exit the freeway at Milepost 202, by Yuba Reservoir Lake. He failed to make the turn and high-centered the stolen vehicle, derailing his escape attempt, the complaint said.
As responding officers from the Utah Highway Patrol reached the disabled SUV, Klein grabbed one of the deputy’s rifles from the vehicle and initiated a firefight with the troopers.
In a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time,’ a pair of bystanders who were leaving the lake in their Ford Escape drove by the scene and seeing the emergency lights on the stolen and disabled SUV, stopped to offer their help, the complaint said.
Klein attempted to carjack the Ford by pointing his also-stolen rifle at the two and fired the gun into the console of the bystanders’ vehicle, causing the airbags to deploy.
An agitated Klein continued to threaten the owners of the Ford until the driver was able to get the car moving again. As they drove away, Klein shot and hit the passenger in the leg, and nearly hit the driver in the head with a bullet that was fragmented by the headrest, according to the complaint.
With the bystander’s vehicle at a distance, Klein turned his focus on the troopers again, exchanging fire and taking a shot to his leg. He managed to make his way through a culvert under the freeway to the embankment of a nearby river, where he was taken in custody.
While troopers were battling to collect Klein, FBI agents searched his abandoned car and found approximately nine pounds of methamphetamine in the trunk, and a 9mm handgun with the serial number slightly filed off, the complaint said.
Investigators say that Klein’s violent interest was an act in the interest of self-preservation to continue his alleged meth-dealing operation.
“I believe that Klein attempted to escape from law enforcement officers and discharged the Colt Defense 5.56 rifle at UHP troopers in furtherance of his narcotics trafficking,” the FBI agent stated in the complaint.
In addition to the three charges he faces in Minnesota, Klein has received seven additional charges for his dangerous actions in Utah. Klein has been charged with possession with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm to further a narcotics offense, discharge of a narcotics-related firearm, carjacking, discharge of a firearm in a violent crime, and possession of a firearm by a felon.
The victim who was injured in the ordeal was treated at the scene with a tourniquet and quick-clot powder by emergency personnel at the scene before being taken to a hospital. Additional details on their condition were not given.
Further information on the female passenger was not included in the complaint.