[Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET] Investigators searching for a former militia leader accused of shooting at sheriff's deputies in Montana after leading police on a low-speed chase Sunday may be driving a tan Jeep Cherokee, authorities say.
Authorities are looking for David Burgert, who they say led police on a low-speed chase in a blue Jeep Cherokee on Sunday before firing shots at deputies, abandoning the vehicle and fleeing into the woods outside Missoula.
The Missoula County Sheriff's Office says the chase began after Burgert ran a stop sign near Lolo and failed to stop for two deputies when they turned on their lights and siren.
Investigators have said previously that Burgert may have stashed another vehicle in the wilderness, and they now say he may have had access to a tan Jeep Cherokee.
[Updated at 2:08 p.m. ET] Investigators have lost the trail of a convicted militia member who melted into the remote and rugged backcountry of western Montana after allegedly shooting at sheriff's deputies, a Missoula County sheriff's commander said Tuesday.
Officials scaled back their search when dogs lost David Burgert's scent, Undersheriff Mike Dominick said, adding that the operation is now more of an investigation than a manhunt.
Authorities have been searching for Burgert since Sunday when, they say, he led police on a low-speed chase in a Jeep Cherokee before firing shots at deputies and abandoning the vehicle.
Burgert apparently was prepared to evade a manhunt and may have stashed another vehicle someplace in the wilderness, police say.
[Posted 12:53 p.m. ET] The FBI has joined the manhunt for a former militia leader after he shot at sheriff’s deputies and fled into the Montana woods outside Missoula, according to police.
Law enforcement agencies, the National Guard and the U.S. Forest Service expanded the search for David Burgert, who once led a Flathead County militia known as Project 7, to parts of western Montana on Tuesday, the third day of the search, according to CNN affiliate KPAX-TV.
After finding ammunition, food and camping gear in Burgert's abandoned Jeep Cherokee, authorities are convinced he is prepared to stay in hiding for a while, Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick told the Missoulian newspaper.
Burgert, 47, is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound white male with brown hair and eyes, police told local media. He was last seen wearing a blue shirt and fanny pack and may be driving a tan or red 1987 Jeep Wagoneer with the license plate 4-26514A.
Police say he is believed to be armed, perhaps with a handgun and rifle, and is considered dangerous.
The manhunt began Sunday morning when deputies stopped to check on a vehicle on U.S. Highway 12 near Lolo. The driver of the vehicle fled and officers gave chase, police told local media.
Employees at the Lumberjack Saloon in Lolo said that Burgert seemed calm and, with a police cruiser on his tail, slowed down to wave at patrons on the establishment’s patio.
“We could hear sirens coming and pretty soon I could see this Jeep Cherokee coming up the road ... with the highway patrol behind him,” Stan Jones told KPAX. “As he got closer to us, he stuck his arm out the window and waved to us, kind of like he was on a Sunday drive.”
Police say Burgert wasn’t so friendly a few minutes later when he pulled over near a creek, jumped out of his vehicle and fired a handgun at deputies, Dominick told the Missoulian.
The deputies fired back but missed, and Burgert calmly removed gear from his vehicle and fled on foot into the woods, the undersheriff told the paper. No one was injured in the exchange of gunfire.
The Montana Department of Corrections says Burgert was sentenced in 2002 for bail jumping and in 1983 for theft. He is on probation, according to the department.
He was released from prison in March 2010, according to federal Bureau of Prisons records.
KPAX and other media reported that Burgert and his Project 7 militia were involved in a 2002 plot to kill police officers and judges in hopes of sparking a revolution that would battle the National Guard and eventually NATO.
Authorities found thousands of rounds of ammunition, bombs, survival gear and weapons, including machine guns, at his home, Reuters reported in 2002. They also found information about police officers, judges, prosecutors and their families, and Burgert was arrested after a daylong standoff, the wire service said.
“Apparently, on a certain day, by going out and killing people, they were going to trigger a revolution that would bring down the U.S. government,” then-Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont told Reuters.
Burgert was first sentenced in 2004 to 10 years in prison. On appeal, he was resentenced in 2007 to eight years and four months on the firearms charges. His sentence included three years of supervised release, KPAX reported.
Residents in the Lolo area have been taking precautions because of the manhunt. Likening the incident to a past mountain lion problem, they say they are keeping doors locked and guns loaded and are remaining vigilant, even if it’s just to check the mail, according to the station.
Thomas Arnone of Alberton, about 13 miles northwest of Lolo, told KPAX he had at least two reasons for feeling safe.
“A. I have two really big dogs. B. I have a shotgun and so that always helps,” he said. “And then with the amount of bears and wildlife that are up on that mountain - wolves, coyotes – he’s not gonna be there too long.”