ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Three suspects eluding the Marion County Sheriff’s Office were apprehended Saturday morning after a high-speed car chase that ended with deputies holding the men at gunpoint.
Justin Fuqua, 32, of Council Grove, Christopher Lesslie, 24, of Emporia and Joshua Lillich, 18, of Manhattan were arrested and booked at the Marion County Jail.
The incident began when a sheriff’s office surveillance team observed the men removing anhydrous ammonia from Agri Producers Inc. in Tampa.
Following a month-long investigation, the three deputies assigned to the surveillance observed the suspects at about 3:50 a.m. filling a tank with the chemical used as the main ingredient for methamphetamine.
“That took about 20 to 25 minutes,” said Undersheriff Randal Brazil with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. “Once (the three men) got their tanks filled, the deputies called and said the suspects were there. We had officers respond to the area.”
Deputies attempted to stop the suspects, but they fled in a small four-door passenger vehicle.
Brazil and Sgt. Jeff Soyez were on the scene in pursuit of the suspects. Also involved in the pursuit and arrest were Sheriff Lee Becker, deputies from the sheriff’s office and officers from Hillsboro and Marion police departments.
Becker reported the vehicle was running on three tires and a rim, because the vehicle hit a tree going through a yard in Tampa.
“We chased their vehicle through Tampa and went south out of Tampa on Limestone,” Brazil said of a chase that involved speeds in excess of 80 mph. “That’s when they struck two cows.”
Brazil said the cattle didn’t appear to be seriously injured by the impact.
“We chased (the suspects), they ran through the cattle and at this time, the back-seat passenger released the anhydrous ammonia out the window,” Brazil said.
Brazil and Sgt. Jeff Soyez were in the lead of the pursuit.
“We couldn’t breathe,” Brazil said. “It was just incredible. It was the fumes.”
At the intersection of 290th and Limestone, Soyez approached the vehicle from behind and used legal intervention to push the car off the road.
With guns drawn, officers approached the stopped vehicle and made the arrest. No weapons were found on the suspects, and the three were taken into custody.
Brazil and Soyez were treated on the scene.
“The ambulance came out, and they flushed our eyes out and gave us some oxygen,” Brazil said.
“It was extremely exciting,” he said. “They were doing 80 mph and sparks were flying everywhere. We’ve had plenty of chases, but we haven’t had one where they’ve actually released a product on us like that.”
At press time, two men were still in the county jail, and one was released on $10,000 bond.
“We feel like we’ve made some headway with our anhydrous thieves,” Brazil said. “Tampa’s been hit quite often. We’re a very aggressive sheriff’s office, and we’re not going to allow these people to get away with this. They might do it once, might do it twice, but eventually we’re going to catch them.