GREAT FALLS — William Joseph Claus has been charged after he allegedly stole a vehicle, crashed into a another vehicle, and led law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase.
Court documents state that on Tuesday (December 22), police received a report of two stolen vehicles from an auto rental business at the airport - a Nissan Pathfinder valued at $40,000, and a GMC Yukon valued at $70,000. The rental shop manager identified Claus and a woman as suspects, as they were both former employees.
At about 11:10 a.m., law enforcement received a report that Claus was seen driving around Great Falls in the stolen Yukon, and was currently near Vaughn. A U.S. Marshal informed other officers via radio that Claus had used the Yukon to ram a law enforcement out of the way and tried to hit two officers, and then drove away.
Several agencies responded and began chasing after Claus, including the Montana Highway Patrol, Cascade County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Marshals Service, and Great Falls Police Department. He reportedly reached speeds of up to 120 miles per hour.
Court documents state that Claus led the officers to Fort Shaw, and then drove south on Birdtail Creek Road for about nine miles. He then pulled into a field and began driving backward toward the officers. He then stopped the Yukon and was taken into custody.
According to the charging documents, Claus had more than $35,000 in outstanding warrants for violent crimes at the time of the arrest, and has convictions for assault with a weapon, criminal endangerment, tampering with evidence, and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. The documents also note that he has violated bail conditions on at least three occasions.
Claus has been charged with the following felonies: theft; assault with a weapon; criminal endangerment.
He has also been charged with the following misdemeanors: resisting arrest; criminal mischief damage to rental property; fleeing/eluding a peace officer; driving while license suspended/revoked.
At this point, we do not know if the second stolen vehicle has been recovered, nor whether the other suspect has been apprehended.
(DECEMBER 22) We have received several reports of a high-speed chase happening west of Great Falls.
The incident started about 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday. A witness told KRTV that there was a hit and run crash just past Vaughn on Highway 200.
Several people have reported that at least five law enforcement vehicles are now chasing after the suspect vehicle heading west toward the Sun River area.
At this point, we do not know if anyone has been seriously injured.
We will update you if we get more information.