10 injured after wrong-way suspect led chase on Loop 101 near Scottsdale

Those injured in a crash that ended a controversial chase on the Loop 101 near Scottsdale could get money from DPS, an attorney said.
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 4:59 PM MST|Updated: Aug. 30, 2023 at 8:13 PM MST
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SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — A driver fleeing an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper ended up going the wrong way on Loop 101 and caused a multi-vehicle crash that partially closed the freeway on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, DPS announced that 52-year-old Adam Christopher Wanko was taken into custody and booked into jail.

DPS Sgt. Eric Andrews says a trooper spotted Wanko’s pickup truck without a license plate on the Loop 101 near Chaparral Road. The trooper tried to pull Wanko over on the freeway, and court documents said it appeared Wanko was going to get off the freeway at McDonald Drive. But then he reportedly hit the gas instead and continued to head north on the 101.

Adam Wanko, 52, is facing multiple counts of assault and other charges including endangerment.
Adam Wanko, 52, is facing multiple counts of assault and other charges including endangerment.(Arizona's Family/MCSO)

The trooper followed in close pursuit while other nearby units responded. Wanko darted through freeway traffic while abruptly braking, nearly causing a crash with the trooper, authorities said. Court documents said he hit 90 mph while being chased.

About two miles into the chase, Wanko went from the left lane to the far right lane and slowed down to 30 mph. That’s when the trooper performed a PIT maneuver, which spun Wanko’s pickup truck around. The trooper got out of his car to take Wanko into custody. The truck ended up facing south, so Wanko sped off in that direction, going the wrong way in the northbound lanes. DPS says the trooper made a “split-second decision” and got back into his car to continue chasing after Wanko while driving the wrong way.

Two suspects were in the truck, and eight people were in the other vehicles. All 10 people were hurt.

After about two miles, Wanko crashed head-on with a black Toyota Camry, rolled and struck two more vehicles before it came to a stop. Debris from the crash hit another vehicle during its roll. Wanko and his passenger were in the truck, and eight people were in the other vehicles. All 10 were hurt. Andrews said injuries range from “minor to very serious” and that no troopers were hurt.

Katie Peterson was on her way home from work Tuesday when one driver’s erratic behavior near the Loop 101 and Chaparral Road caught her attention and made her pull out her cellphone. “It got really scary when it became a high-speed chase essentially,” she said. “It really got scary when they did the PIT maneuver with the pickup truck that was driving erratically.”

Peterson said initially, it looked like a normal traffic stop. “It looked like they were just not paying attention, didn’t know a police car was following them,” she said. After the PIT maneuver, she got more concerned. “That’s when he spun around, you can see he ended up facing the cop car, and that’s when I lost focus,” Peterson said.

She got scared when she saw Wanko going the wrong way. “When he was coming at me, that’s when I stopped filming because I was just panicking and trying to get over as far as I could to avoid him hitting my car,” Peterson said.

A woman who recorded DPS performing a PIT maneuver on a felony suspect on the freeway near Scottsdale describes the chaos that happened next.

Peterson says given the fact that it all happened during peak rush hour, she’s glad it wasn’t worse. “The freeway was full,” she said. “Every lane had a car, every car had their headlights, they’re all stopped.” Wanko was booked on charges of assault, unlawful flight and endangerment. He also has two outstanding felony warrants. His passenger was released and not charged. The northbound lanes were closed for hours but reopened on Wednesday morning.

Possible legal action

Arizona’s Family spoke with Jason Lamm, who is a criminal defense attorney. He says those injured will most likely seek legal advice and could even take legal action. “It’s a high-risk situation, but if troopers feel the potential harm to the public is so great, it may justify such a degree of force,” Lamm said about the PIT maneuver. “Unfortunately, this one was not the text book operation.”

Lamm says the innocent drivers who were injured have 180 days to file a claim against the state. “Anytime someone, a member of public, what have you, is injured or harmed by unintended conduct, they may have legal recourse. In this case, it could be against the state of Arizona,” Lamm said.

Lamm added the trooper’s actions will likely be looked into. “Could there have been a safer way to stop the car after the failed PIT maneuver? I suspect there is going to be a lot of critical incident investigations and perhaps lawsuits that will get into this case.”

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