By Logan Smith

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) — Police tactics changed abruptly during a multi-agency pursuit of a stolen SUV on Interstate 70 Sunday morning. What began as an attempt to stop the driver’s vehicle turned into a coordinated effort to prevent a deadly, high-speed, head-on collision.

The Colorado State Patrol confirmed Monday its troopers ordered the eastbound lanes of the highway shut down and evacuated after the stolen vehicle turned into oncoming traffic and accelerated to more than 100 mph.

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“One of our troopers narrowly missed getting struck by this vehicle as it continued the wrong direction at a high rate of speed, so the troopers implemented a plan to close down the interstate in multiple locations to prevent a head-on collision,” CSP Trooper Jacob Best told the Vail Daily.

Law enforcement officers prioritized clearing the highway. A bystander told the Vail Daily their vehicle was directed off the interstate in an urgent manner at the Eagle exit while the lone officer yelled, “Get out of here, it’s dangerous.”

CDOT highway signs were changed to alert drivers: “Wrong-way driver, exit immediately.”

File photo of a CDOT highway sign. (credit: CBS)

Best said 9-1-1 dispatchers received calls from drivers “from Avon to Edwards to Wolcott saying that this vehicle was still traveling in the wrong direction at a high rate of speed.”

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Best said law enforcement initially pursued the stolen vehicle, an older Mercedes SUV with stolen license plates, on the interstate and pulled back when driver of the Mercedes went through several towns before returning to the highway.

Officers were preparing to roll tire-deflating devices called stop sticks into the path of the stolen vehicle when the stakes were raised. The driver of the stolen vehicle went into the opposite lanes of traffic between two exits at Avon.

Law enforcement began clearing traffic at several points stretching as far west as the Hanging Lake Tunnel 50 miles away.

The interstate was closed for an hour before the stolen vehicle was found abandoned near Wolcott.

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“(Officers) ended up locating the vehicle about 2 and a half miles up Bellyache Ridge Road,” Best told the Vail Daily. “We believe there was probably another tail vehicle that was in the area because those officers canvased, they set up a perimeter, they checked multiple houses and properties throughout the area, and there was no sign of them. So we would presume there was another vehicle involved or staged in the area.”

Logan Smith