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Jan 1, 2014 8:33 PM by Sam Salzwedel

Pima Sheriff defends decision to pursue driver who almost killed woman

TUCSON - The Pima County Sheriff's Department believes a deputy made the right decision to pursue a driver who ended up almost killing a woman.

"He had to be stopped. He was a very serious danger to the public," Deputy Tracy Suitt said. "We had a call initially stating there was a driver who was possibly intoxicated, and they noticed his erratic driving behavior. So he was very dangerous."

Around 9 p.m. New Year's Eve, dispatchers advised patrol deputies about a possible drunk driver. Then on Speedway Boulevard near Painted Hills Drive, a truck, driving in the wrong lane with no headlights on, almost ran into a deputy, according to Suitt.

The deputy made a U-turn and stopped the driver, identified as Alfonso Gutierrez Mateo. When the deputy asked Mateo to step out of the vehicle, Mateo sped off, according to Suitt.

The department posts its pursuit policies on its website, writing, "During pursuits, the safety of bystanders, the violator, and the member shall be given a higher priority than the apprehension of the violator(s)/suspect(s)." That is followed by 6 redacted pages that do not reveal specific strategies.

"The deputy went back to his vehicle to pursue him due to the fact that Mr. Gutierrez was driving his vehicle on the wrong lane with no lights on," Suitt said. "He presented a serious hazard to the public."

Mateo collided head-on into a car with 2 women in their 20s. The passenger might not survive. The driver was taken to the hospital with less severe injuries.

Mateo is charged with Aggravated Driving Under the Influence. Suitt said he "appeared to be intoxicated," and investigators will know more when test results come back from the lab.

Mateo was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

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