When Laramie Police officers suspected a 47-year-old Utah man of trafficking a “skinny” female at a truck stop last month, the investigation sparked a car chase into a Wyoming snowstorm.
But they caught their suspect: Travis Wood of Salt Lake City.
Wood now faces multiple felonies and misdemeanors for the alleged car chase. His case ascended Tuesday to the felony-level Albany County District Court.
Fog, Light Snow
It started at about 9:08 the evening of Nov. 24 in the final throes of the Thanksgiving blizzard that smothered the state the day prior.
Laramie Police Department officers went to the Petro Truck Stop on West Curtis Street in Laramie for a report of a suspicious vehicle driving around the parking lot with no headlights on, according to an evidentiary affidavit filed in the case.
The vehicle had reportedly dropped off a “skinny” female to wander around the truck stop.
Officers contacted the woman, a 21-year-old from Lehi, Utah.
Dispatch told the officers she was registered nationally as a missing person.
But she did not believe she was missing, and told officers she was traveling with her husband, Travis Wood, relates the affidavit.
“They were later determined not to be married,” the affidavit says, adding that the woman lied about her birth date and grew confrontational toward police.
She refused to answer questions about how she’d disappeared from Utah, the affidavit says.
The officers took particular interest in the 26-year age gap between Wood and the young woman.
By the time officers questioned Wood, who sat in the driver’s seat of his 2005 Mercury Mariner, the woman was back in the vehicle with him.
Wood claimed to be a “sovereign citizen,” saying he’d been born on an American Indian reservation and had never been issued an identification card or driver’s license, the document says.
Wood allegedly gave multiple fake names and dates of birth, and was “evasive and deceptive about his identity,” the affidavit says.
Laramie Police Department Sgt. Matthew Leibovitz believed Wood was lying about his identity and “was concerned that Wood was potentially trafficking (the woman) and/or she was being held under duress,” the affidavit says.
Leibovitz asked the woman to get out of the vehicle.
The affidavit says Wood’s response was along the lines of “F*** this,” and that he raced away.
Police pursued him. He sped through red lights at the intersections of 4th Street and East Curtis Street, and 3rd Street and East Curtis Street, veered into the oncoming traffic lanes and committed “other violations,” the document alleges.
Then he fled town northbound on Highway 30 with Laramie Police Department cars behind him. Albany County Sheriff’s deputies would later relieve the town’s officers; Wyoming Highway Patrol units helped out after that.
The Big Empty
Albany County Sheriff’s Supervisor Sgt. Daran Olaveson had the weather and Wyoming's vastness on his mind.
Laramie was snowy with ice fog that night, according to weather records from the date.
There was no law enforcement presence that evening between Laramie and Medicine Bow, and Highway 30 was closed due to the snow.
Olaveson passed the Laramie Police Department patrol vehicles on the highway, caught up to Wood, then sped around to pass Wood so he could set up spike strips.
But Wood veered his Mercury toward Olaveson’s vehicle, goading the sergeant onto the left-hand side of the road, the affidavit says.
They were going about 75 mph in a 70 mph zone at that time, reportedly.
Olaveson did get ahead of Wood after the high-speed back-and-forth, so Wood flipped around and took off, zigzagging in the opposite direction: south on Highway 30, the affidavit says.
On Its Rims
Laramie Police Department personnel deployed spike strips ahead of Wood at last.
He rumbled over them and kept driving the Mercury “on its rims,” says the document, which calls this decision “unsafe.”
Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers got involved and helped to surround Wood, who stopped.
Agents arrested him.
Olaveson learned later from dispatch that Wood had had a driver’s license, but it was suspended, the document says.
Agents also reportedly learned that Wood “had absconded from parole” out of Utah; a parole term he’d been serving on an original offense of aggravated kidnapping.
The affidavit says Wood had an active, full-extradition warrant for parole violations, and a caution “for him being a sexually violent predator.”
Albany County Chief Deputy Attorney Becky Farley filed nine charges against Wood in Laramie Circuit Court on Nov. 26.
All nine of those ascended to the felony-level Albany County District Court on Tuesday after Wood waived his preliminary hearing, which, had he not waived it, would have been his chance to argue that Farley didn’t have probable cause to hold him on those charges.
The charges are:
Count 1: Aggravated eluding, punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
Count 2: Aggravated assault (for allegedly targeting Olaveson with his car): up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Count 3: Interference with a peace officer, up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Count 4: Reckless driving, up to six months in jail and $750 in fines.
Count 5: Eluding (misdemeanor version), up to six months in jail and $750 in fines.
Count 6: Driving with his license suspended, up to six months in jail and $750 in fines.
Count 7: Failure to maintain a single lane of travel, up to $200 in fines.
Count 8: Driving on a closed road, up to 30 days in jail and $750 in fines.
Count 9: Speeding – a $25 fine at that margin of excess.
Wood’s file describes him as a white male with brown hair and eyes, weighing 220 pounds and standing 6-foot-2.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.