New details released after multi-hour chase, search for violent criminal in Juab County

vames Klein
James Klein - Photo: Millard County Sheriff's Office

JUAB COUNTY, May 20, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — New details have been revealed the day after the multi-agency manhunt in Central Utah for a man now accused of stealing a Sheriff’s Department vehicle with guns and a K-9 inside; attempting to steal a second vehicle and shooting one of the occupants; and firing on then fleeing from officers to hide in a nearby river.

According to a probable cause statement filed by an officer of the Pleasant Grove Police Department, two Juab County deputies, who were sharing a sheriff’s office vehicle, stopped the vehicle driven by the suspect on northbound Interstate 15 near mile marker 200.

The driver, later identified as 34-year-old James Howard Klein, was in the car with a female passenger whose name has not been officially released.

“Deputy T. Hurst and Deputy M. Nielson believed a large amount of illegal narcotics was concealed inside the vehicle upon investigation,” says the probable cause statement filed in Klein’s case. “While investigating, the male suspect was being interviewed in the passenger seat of Hurst patrol car.”

Klein “was asked for consent to search his vehicle by Juab County deputies,” the statement says. “Consent was given to search the vehicle. Klein was asked to wait at the Juab County police vehicle while deputies began preparing to search the vehicle driven by Klein.

“Two Utah Highway troopers, J. Blankenagel and D. Griffiths, arrived to assist in the traffic stop and the vehicle search. As deputies were preparing to search the vehicle driven by Klein, Klein entered the driver’s seat of the Juab County Sheriff’s vehicle and stole the vehicle.”

Klein drove away from the scene of the traffic stop in the Sheriff’s Department vehicle, and continued north on I-15.

Second crime scene

“Approximately two miles north of the traffic stop, Klein exited I-15 on exit 202, Yuba Lake exit. Troopers Blankenagel and Griffiths pursued Klein onto the off ramp, northbound.

“Klein failed to navigate a right hand turn onto Old Yuba Dam Road and the vehicle left the roadway. The vehicle was stuck on the north side of Old Yuba Dam Road and Klein was unable to move the vehicle at this point.”

The vehicle was at a stop on the side of the road, emergency lights still on from the traffic stop, the statement says.

“Klein exited the vehicle with a Sheriff patrol rifle .223 in hand. Two citizens, husband and wife, were approaching I-15 on Old Yuba Dam Road as Klein exited the Sheriff’s vehicle. Klein ran into the roadway and stopped the vehicle driven by the two citizens.”

The female driver — believing the armed Klein was a law enforcement officer and there was an emergency — stopped the vehicle she was in with her husband, the statement says.

“As Klein approached their vehicle the husband stated Klein pointed the rifle at his wife and demanded they give¬†him a ride or he would ‘shoot’ them,” the police statement says.

“The male victim stated to officers that Klein stuck the barrel of the rifle inside the front passenger window that was down and pointed the rifle barrel at his wife’s head when he said he would shoot them if they didn’t give him a ride. The male victim stated to police that he grabbed the barrel of the rifle and pushed it away from being pointed at his wife’s head. At this time Klein shot the rifle. The projectile entered the dashboard of the vehicle causing the airbags to be deployed and the engine to shut off.

“The victims stated Klein then opened the door and again order the victims to give him a ride or he would shoot them again. The female driver tried to explain that the vehicle would not start. The victims stated Klein opened the rear passenger door and attempted to put the vehicle in park so the vehicle could be started again.”

Klein was standing outside the victim’s vehicle when the male victim was able to put the vehicle in park and his wife was able to start the vehicle again, the probable cause statement says. “When the vehicle was started the male victim told his wife to drive away. With the back door still open Klein fired a second round this time at the male victim.”

The bullet hit the male victim in the right leg, and the bullet traveled upward, “striking the male victim’s knee causing significant damage to the knee. The gunshot wound inflicted by Klein required the male victim to require emergency surgery later this same night.”

The couple was finally able to start their vehicle, and drove away as Klein fired another shot at them, the statement says. That shot, fired at the rear of the vehicle, traveled through the passenger compartment, striking the driver’s headrest and fragmenting before a shard shattered the driver’s side window.

Troopers arrive

Troopers Blankenagel and Griffiths stopped on the off ramp and ordered Klein to put down the firearm. Klein instead began shooting at the two, and one trooper backed up the vehicle to put some space between the deputies and the shooter. The trooper struck a traffic sign, damaging the vehicle.

“Both troopers returned fire and Klein was struck once in the leg. After being shot Klein took cover behind the Sheriff’s vehicle in a prone position and began firing at troopers Blankenagel and Griffiths from under the Sheriffs vehicle. Multiple rounds were exchanged between troopers Blankenagel and Griffiths and Klein.

A male and female parked on the on ramp were able to take pictures of the incident, and the female was able to record a short video of the incident. This video shows Klein taking cover behind the sheriff’s vehicle and shooting at the troopers, the statement says.

“The pictures document the moment Klein is attempting to steal the victims vehicle and pointing the firearm at them.”

After the bullet exchange, Klein reportedly left the sheriff’s vehicle and walked down an embankment into a drainage ditch and culvert. Klein then walked west through the culvert, toward the Sevier River, the statement says.

Klein attempted to conceal himself in the river, but was located by Utah County Metro SWAT and taken into custody.

“At the time of Klein’s arrest he was still in possession of the AR15 rifle stolen from the Juab County Deputy’s vehicle,” the statement says.

The K-9 was recovered, unhurt.

Evidence and initial charges

At the original crime scene, deputies noticed several large bags of a white crystal substance in the trunk of the vehicle driven by Klein, “and believed this was the reason for the theft of the sheriff’s vehicle,” the probable cause statement says.

“A search warrant was later requested and later approved by a judge in good standing for the suspect vehicle at mile post 200. Once the search warrant was obtained, nine pounds of Methamphetamine was located inside the trunk of the vehicle and a small amount of marijuana, approximately 2 grams, was found in a backpack inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle.¬†Inside the vehicle glove box was found a loaded 9mm handgun.”

The statement also noted “Klein is a known violent felon who has a history of violence and assault and shooting at police.”

Klein has a pending criminal case where he committed retail theft in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and when officers attempted to stop Klein, he shot at the two officers in a Walmart parking lot, attempting to murder the officers and causing substantial risk to the public, according to the statement. Klein is awaiting trail on this case in Minnesota at this time.

Klein’s new charges, resulting from the Juab County incident, are as follows:

  • Two counts of murder, a first-degree felony, likely to be amended since no one died.
  • Two counts of murder, knowing and intentional, a first-degree felony, also likely to be amended
  • Aggravated robbery, takes/attempts to take an operable vehicle, a first-degree felony
  • Two counts of theft of a firearm or operable vehicle, a second-degree felony
  • Possession with intent to distribute an illegal substance, a third-degree felony
  • Failure to stop or respond at the command of police, a third-degree felony
  • Possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, a third-degree felony
  • Alters number on pistol/revolver, a class A misdemeanor
  • Loaded firearm in vehicle on street or in prohibited area, a class B misdemeanor
  • Possession of a controlled substance marijuana/spice, a class B misdemeanor

Klein is being held without bail. Any pending charges against his passenger are unknown.

In March 2020, he was charged with felony assault after the alleged exchange of gunfire with police in a Minneapolis parking lot. He was being investigated for shoplifting at the time and ended up being wounded in the hand and leg. Klein made bail on those charges April 6, 2021.

Court records show Klein had previous felony drug convictions dating back to 2013. He was also convicted for being a restricted person in possession of a firearm.

I-15 was closed for hours in both directions during Wednesday’s incident.

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