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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Suspect arrested in Montana trooper shooting, 3 others injured

UPDATED: Fri., March 15, 2019, 1:56 p.m.

Law enforcement maintained roadblocks, like this one at Highway 93 and Ladyslipper Road, throughout the night on a stretch of Highway 93 during the manhunt for a suspect in a Montana Highway Patrol officer’s shooting early Friday. (Tommy Martino / Missoulian)
Law enforcement maintained roadblocks, like this one at Highway 93 and Ladyslipper Road, throughout the night on a stretch of Highway 93 during the manhunt for a suspect in a Montana Highway Patrol officer’s shooting early Friday. (Tommy Martino / Missoulian)
By Seaborn Larson Missoulian

A suspect was in custody Friday after a Montana Highway Patrol officer was shot near Evaro Hill as police were searching for a suspect in a related shooting in Missoula that injured three people, according to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office and Missoula Police Department.

Johnathan Bertsch was taken into custody in the 16000 block of Thornburg Way at about 6:15 a.m. without incident, according to the sheriff’s office Facebook page. The post asked for prayers for the Highway Patrol officer.

The Arlee School District notified parents and students on its Facebook page early Friday that all school-related activities, including sports practices, were canceled due to the situation in the Evaro area.

Highway 93 north of I-90 remained closed Friday morning, backing up traffic onto the interstate. And a stead stream of law enforcement officers was stopping at Providence St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, where the trooper was being treated.

The situation unfolded around 11 p.m. Thursday when the Missoula Police Department investigated shots fired at a car on Expressway near the Lithia auto dealership. MPD Sgt. and Public Information Officer Travis Welsh said three people in the car, two men and a woman, were taken to the hospital, all for gunshot wounds. No further information was available about their conditions Friday morning.

Around midnight, shots were reported near Evaro Hill, triggering a massive manhunt that saw all traffic blocked on Highway 93 North between mile markers 3 and 10 as law enforcement from multiple agencies spent hours combing the area for a man driving a white SUV, and believed armed with an AR-15 and a .45, according to scanner reports.

“Obviously, our thoughts are with the trooper and Highway Patrol,” Welsh told the Missoulian.

Residents in the Evaro Hill area were warned to lock their doors and immediately call 911 to report any unusual activity.

St. Patrick Hospital issued a lockdown on its facilities from 11:41 p.m. until 1:43 a.m. after reports of a shooting suspect at large.

“After receiving the public safety message, the hospital went into lockdown out of an abundance of caution for our patients and caregivers,” said Dr. James McKay, chief physician executive — acute care, in a press release. “Staff monitored the incident, and by communicating with Missoula County officials, determined there was no known immediate threat, and lifted the lockdown at 1:43 a.m. No patients were affected, and patient care was not impacted as a result of the lockdown.”

Expressway has been reopened to traffic, Welsh said Friday morning.

Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes said further information would be released later on Friday.

According to a 2009 Missoulian article, then-18-year-old Bertsch allegedly fled police after stealing gas and, at the end of a pursuit, rammed his car into a law enforcement officer’s patrol car, and attempted to gun the vehicle for the officer as well.

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