High-speed chase ends in 100 mph crash

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A high-speed chase that ended just west of Livingston Nov. 2 came to a halt when a fugitive from a federal facility in Colorado crashed into a Park County Sheriff’s patrol car, sustaining serious injuries and totaling both cars. 

The patrol car was unoccupied and no officials or members of the public were injured in the crash, Park County Sheriff Scott Hamilton said. 

Hamilton said deputies on scene estimated the fugitive, Gary Joseph Conti, 69, was traveling at least 100 mph. 

Park County was alerted by Bozeman Police Department (BPD) officers at about 1 a.m. Monday morning of a high-speed pursuit eastbound on Interstate 90. 

On a tip, BPD was pursuing Conti, who allegedly escaped from a federal prison in Colorado Friday, Oct. 30. He was driving a 2002 Jeep Cherokee, which was reported stolen around 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1, from a residence on Bozeman’s south side, BPD Sgt. Travis Munter said. 

BPD officers observed the stolen Jeep and attempted to stop the driver just after midnight Nov. 2. The vehicle reached high speeds on Bozeman’s east side, and the pursuit continued onto I-90 toward Livingston, according to a BPD news release.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) was alerted — with about five or 10 minutes advance notice —  to set up a spike strip and close the interstate, Hamilton said. The spike strip was set up near mile marker 330, just west of the 330 interchange. 

Deputies Brad Bichler and Jason Hopkin parked their patrol vehicles off the interstate in the median and positioned themselves a safe distance away on the north side of the highway, per standard operating procedures, Hamilton said. The patrol cars were parked perpendicular to the roadway with their headlights illuminating the spike strip. All emergency lights were activated. 

Conti approached the location of the spike strips at a high rate of speed and struck Bichler’s patrol car, a 2015 Ford Interceptor, causing extensive damage to both vehicles. 

Conti was taken into custody and transported by ambulance to Livingston HealthCare (LHC). Hamilton said Conti was reported conscious at the scene, and rescuers had to cut the door off the vehicle to extract him. 

LHC officials declined to comment Nov. 2 on whether or not Conti was a patient, his condition or if he was moved to another area hospital, citing patient privacy concerns. 

Billings Clinic Hospital said there was no Gary Joseph Conti listed as a patient. 

A second patrol car, which was not damaged, recorded the accident on its dashboard camera. The camera in the damaged patrol car became inoperative when the crash ejected its power source.

“The car battery got tossed across the interstate” from the impact along with the vehicle’s grill guard, Hamilton said. 

The patrol car was totaled, but Hamilton noted the vehicle’s cabin area didn’t collapse. He estimated the replacement cost, fully equipped with law enforcement gear, at about $50,000. 

Hamilton said multiple agencies responded to the incident, including BPD, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Montana Highway Patrol and the Montana Department of Transportation. 

Park County Rural Fire District No. 1, Livingston Fire and Rescue and Livingston Police Department officers assisted with maintaining the road closure. Both east- and westbound lanes were closed for approximately three hours, Hamilton said. 

Hamilton praised all the responders for keeping themselves and the public safe during the pursuit and its conclusion.

Multiple charges are pending, and the suspect is being held on a federal fugitive warrant, according to a PCSO news release. 

Conti was found guilty of 26 felony charges in May 2014 in U.S. District Court in Montana, relating to his role in “deceiving the government in an ‘in-kind’ scheme that auditors have determined resulted in at least $4.6 million fraud against a grant designed to help troubled and at-risk youth on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation,” according to a Justice Department’s online news release dated May 23, 2014. 

He was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution, the Associated Press reported in October 2014. 

A Colorado television station identified the detention facility where Conti was housed as a low-security “federal prison camp.” It reported Conti was scheduled for release in September 2019.

By Liz Kearney / Yellowstone Newspapers

Photo by HUNTER D’ANTUONO / Yellowstone Newspapers