Ty Ingram, right, stands with friend and neighbor Benjamin Palmer, at the site where a thief dropped a John Deere tractor on Highway 20 in the early morning hours of New Year's Eve. (Submitted photo)
Ty Ingram was fast asleep in the early morning hours of New Year’s Eve when noise from his neighbor's unoccupied ranch jolted him awake.
At first Ingram couldn’t see anything as he looked out his bedroom window. A line of fir trees stands between his home and his neighbor.
None of Ingram’s five dogs were barking. But Ingram, a general contractor out of Harper, knew something was off.
Then he heard the sound of a vehicle, and caught a glimpse of someone driving his neighbor's four-wheel utility vehicle.
From his bathroom window, Ingram finally saw someone was loading items onto a pick-up truck about 120 yards away from him, where his neighbor’s driveway runs up against his own property. The thief had already loaded a John Deere tractor and a Polaris Ranger onto a flatbed trailer.
Ingram yelled for his wife Christina before he slid on a pair of pants and some boots, grabbed a shotgun and went outside for a closer look. He was on alert after a series of recent thefts.
“We’ve been having stuff stolen – gas and other stuff,” said Ingram, of some items that went missing last week.
What happened next would be the first in a series of events that led to a chase, a manhunt, and a capture on New Year’s Day.
“He must’ve seen me or something, because when he got on the pick-up he took off, hit the metal gates and almost hit me,” Ingram said, adding that the thief plowed through the gates at 10 or 15 miles an hour.
Crouched in some brush about 30 feet away from the thief, Ingram squeezed the trigger of his shotgun into the air to get attention, but the driver had a gun out the window and shot back – missing Ingram – before bolting off.
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Ingram would later find out that from inside his home, one of his 7-year-old twin daughters had heard everything – the two shots, and the war cry-like hoot he said the thief let out before driving off toward Juntura.
Ingram ran back inside to his house about 125 yards away and called 911.
The call came into the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office at 3:42 a.m. He told them his plan to follow the thief. He said they told him repeatedly to avoid getting hurt. He also asked his wife to alert Benjamin Palmer, a neighbor and friend, to follow him.
Despite the danger, Ingram said he was pushed to pursue because he was tired of thefts in the area and like most people who live there, he knows that it takes law enforcement upwards of an hour to reach the remote area out of Harper.
“We all kind of watch each other’s stuff,” Ingram added.
With his boots untied, Ingram threw on a hooded sweater. He had no time to put a shirt on underneath as he got in his own pickup to follow the thief.
Ingram estimated the suspect had about a seven-minute lead on him. Ingram hit the gas, pushing 100 miles an hour at one point. He followed the suspect west on Highway 20 for about five minutes until he caught up to him.
Ingram said he cornered the thief in a canyon while the suspect attempted to unhook a trailer from the Ford F350 pick-up he was driving. The F350 had been stolen from a job site in Marsing, Idaho.
Ginger Loucks, Marsing, said she discovered her pickup was stolen on the morning of Dec. 30. Loucks said her family uses the pickup for everything from farming to ranching. At the time it was stolen, she was using it to haul fence supplies.
Ingram parked his pickup diagonally between himself and the suspect.
Ingram asked him to lay on the ground but the suspect edged his way back inside the vehicle and took off again, driving recklessly and scattering the tractor and side-by-side on the highway.
“I had to push the side-by-side off the road,” said Ingram. “I didn’t want anyone to get hurt on that blind corner.”
Ingram caught up to him again right before Juntura.
“I knew once we hit Juntura it’s full of lights so I thought I could get a good look at him,” Ingram recalled.
But right before town, the suspect turned off his headlights, whizzing through at what Ingram said looked like over 60 miles per hour.
Ingram stopped to call 911 on a pay phone, but it was out of service. He flagged down a passing pickup and identified himself to the driver. He had the driver call 911 and tell them he was still chasing the suspect who had just left Juntura and was headed toward Burns.
Ingram caught the thief’s headlights coming off Drinkingwater Hill and saw the road he pulled off on.
Ingram said he caught up to him again, pulling off a dirt road. Ingram flashed his headlights as the suspect shut the gate behind him.
The last time he saw the thief, he had disappeared in the dark among the trees on a dirt road that runs north of Stinkingwater Hill.
Deputies would later find the vehicle about two miles off the main road on Altnow Beulah Road, known to locals as “Mine Road,” in Otis Valley. It had run out of fuel.
Travis Johnson, Malheur County Undersheriff, said with information from Ingram, deputies had a rough idea of where to start looking. With the vehicle found, the department contacted the Harney County Sheriff’s Office and a search kicked off with help from Oregon State Police.
They used a helicopter and three drones to scour the high desert terrain covered by sagebrush and large junipers, calling off the manhunt at around 4 p.m. Tuesday.
But Johnson said it was old fashioned police work – searching buildings – that led to the suspect.
Malheur County deputies resumed the search at around 10:30 a.m. the next day.
“It was cold and wet and raining pretty hard, so you start in a logical place where someone would try to survive,” Johnson said.
Two deputies searched an area on the grounds of EP Minerals, a mining compound 70 miles west of Vale, when they noticed a head poking out of a tin shed.
Deputies identified the suspect as Joshua B. Christoffersen, 40, of Caldwell, Idaho.
The plant was never shut down. Mining activities were moved to a safer location and a mine crew of about four people was sent home on the evening of Dec. 31 until the suspect was apprehended the next day.
When deputies found Christoffersen, he tried to make a run for it, fleeing about 75 yards on foot before the two deputies took him down, said Johnson. Christoffersen eventually complied and didn't resist arrest.
Christoffersen was arrested at 11:21 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
He wasn’t armed, police said. The tin shed contained a portable toilet and small metal bowl Johnson said the thief had used to build a fire in to stay warm.
The suspect later told officers he had gotten under a juniper and hidden in brush up high enough to see the manhunt underway.
“It looks open to the eye, but once you get in there there’s plenty of places to hide,” said Johnson.
He was found about three miles from where the pickup had been stranded. According to an affidavit, two shotguns and a pump action .22 rifle were located inside the stolen pickup.
Christoffersen was charged with first-degree aggravated theft, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and unlawful possession of methamphetamine, with more potential charges pending an investigation.
Christoffersen would only spend about a day in jail. He was released without bond Thursday afternoon.
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