BRANDON, Miss. — A trail of mayhem that began last week in a suburban Mississippi apartment ended Wednesday morning when a stolen SUV chased by police flipped in a fiery crash in a rural Kansas field.
In between, authorities suspect 28-year-old Alex Deaton killed two people, shot three others and stole four vehicles.
"He's led us on quite the chase the last few days and I think everybody here is happy he's in custody," Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher said at a news conference Wednesday.
Officials in Mississippi, Kansas and New Mexico are investigating Deaton, although Mississippi authorities appear likely to get first crack at prosecuting him because both the killings he's being investigated for happened there. Fisher and Rankin County Sheriff Brian Bailey said Mississippi will seek to extradite Deaton from Ellsworth County, Kansas, where he is jailed.
"So far, everybody is wanting to release him to us to come back here; and we want that also," Bailey said.
Authorities say Deaton's spree began Feb. 22 at the apartment of 30-year-old Heather Robinson in Brandon, Mississippi. Bailey said he believes Deaton strangled Robinson after the nurse told Deaton she wanted to break off their relationship.
"I believe she was trying to break up with him and he wasn't going to have it," Bailey said. "He wasn't going to let her go. I think he went into a fit of rage. I believe he killed her first, and after that, everything went downhill."
Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell said he believes Deaton shot and killed 69-year-old Brenda Pinter, who had gone to clean Dixon Baptist Church south of Philadelphia. Waddell said video shows a white SUV that matches the one Deaton stole from Robinson entering the church parking lot. He said Deaton later sent a text confessing to a murder in a church, and said officials have collected physical evidence including a bullet.
Waddell said he doesn't know why Deaton would have killed Pinter. Officials have said he had family ties to Neshoba County.
Friday, officials believe Deaton shot a female jogger in the buttocks from the window of the same SUV, back near Robinson's apartment.
Bailey said Deaton sent a series of texts before going silent Saturday. "A lot of them were jumbled, unintelligible, but some of them did say some incriminating things," the Rankin County sheriff said.
Bailey said Deaton did "specific things to avoid detection and capture." While not elaborating, he said Deaton had worked in a cellphone store and that could have helped him evade police.
Deaton next turned up Tuesday in New Mexico. There, officials say he carjacked and briefly abducted two hikers late Tuesday at a trailhead in mountains near Albuquerque. One hiker was shot, but his wounds were described as non-life threatening. Sandoval County sheriff's officials said the man and a woman were forced at gunpoint into the trunk of their car, and that the man was wounded after they pulled the emergency-release lever to escape.
Sandoval County Sheriff's Lt. Keith Elder said Deaton then briefly stole a van and forced the woman to get in. When she jumped out, Elder said Deaton returned to steal the couple's Honda Accord.
Police began chasing a Honda Accord before dawn Wednesday in southern Kansas. Pratt Police Sgt. Edward Gimpel said Deaton evaded a roadblock at the edge of that town around 4:30 Wednesday morning.
While police kept looking for him, Gimpel says Deaton ran to a Kwik Shop, shot the clerk, and stole a black Cadillac vehicle.
Gimpel said the store clerk, whom he didn't name, was flown to a Wichita hospital. Maria Loving, a spokeswoman for Via Christi Hospital in Wichita, said the clerk is in critical condition Wednesday but she could not release the man's name. Gimpel said Pratt police will seek charges against Deaton there.
The chase resumed on Interstate 70 near Dorrance, when authorities tried to stop a vehicle matching the description of the one stolen from the convenience store, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Tod Hileman said.
The trooper said authorities used tire-puncturing devices before the suspect began driving toward Wilson in Ellsworth County. The chase ended around 8 a.m. with a crash after a "tactical vehicle intervention," Hileman said. Troopers forced the vehicle off the road, with it flipping into a field and catching fire. Deaton was then arrested.
Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri. Associated Press reporter Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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This story has been corrected to show that the Cadillac the suspect allegedly stole was a car, not an SUV.
Jeff Amy And Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press