Montana authorities on Tuesday scaled down a search for a militia member accused of firing on two sheriff's deputies, saying the practiced survivalist and ex-convict could easily have traveled dozens of miles through the state's jagged western mountains.
Missoula County sheriff's deputies saw a Jeep Cherokee run a stop sign Sunday morning and gave chase once it refused to pull over, the department said. David Earl Burgert Jr., 47, led his pursuers off-road into the mountains, jumped out when he got stuck and opened fire on the deputies with a handgun, authorities said. He then fled into the thick forest near Lolo, just southwest of Missoula.
Burgert was convicted of weapons violations in 2002 as part of a federal investigation into a militia group called Project 7, which targeted law enforcement, according to an FBI report on domestic terrorism.
Burgert served eight years in federal prison before his release in March 2010. Among the terms of his release was a prohibition on carrying firearms.
The Missoula County Sheriff's Department said Tuesday it was scaling back the search because Burgert could easily have traveled far from the spot where he vanished into the woods. In 2002, he faked drowning in an attempt to evade capture, and only surrendered after holding a gun to his head and threatening to kill himself, Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry told the Associated Press.
The Missoula County Sheriff's Department issued a statement warning about Burgert: "We consider him armed and dangerous and caution the public against confronting him."