WATCH: Video shows police chase, standoff on New Year's Eve
New Year's revelers, sheriff's deputies—even the suspect—could have died during a chase and standoff on Highway 51 on Dec. 31.
A distraught young man in a pickup truck sped north out of Beloit, swerving into oncoming traffic and threatening sheriff's deputies—and himself—with a knife.
It appears deputies' and other officers' heroics prevented the worst from happening.
Cmdr. Troy Knudson of the sheriff's office agrees with that assessment.
“I was very pleased with the actions of the people involved in this,” said Knudson, a use-of-force instructor for 25 years.
A gripping squad-car camera video shows much of what happened. The Gazette obtained the video from the Rock County Sheriff's Office with an open-records request.
The sheriff's office at first rejected the request, saying it could not release the video until after the court case is closed.
The Gazette insisted that it had a right to the video, citing a court ruling, and the sheriff's office—apparently with advice from the county's corporation counsel—eventually agreed.
The chase led to the arrest of Robert A. Carothers, 23, of 135 Park Ave., Beloit.
A criminal complaint says it was about 11 p.m. that a town of Beloit police officer received a complaint that a man holding what appeared to be a bottle of alcohol was stopping cars and asking for a cellphone.
When the officer approached Carothers near Townview Elementary School, Carothers jumped into the pickup truck and drove east on Newark Road. The officer chased with lights and siren.
The driver was “all over the roadway” and repeatedly made a vulgar hand gesture at the officer while drinking from a bottle of vodka, according to the complaint.
The truck stopped at a red light at Riverside Drive, and the driver turned and taunted officers, again gesturing and drinking from the bottle, according to the complaint.
The light turned green, and Carothers turned north onto Riverside with headlights extinguished, the complaint states. It appears Carothers later turned the headlights back on.
Six officers in squad cars eventually joined the chase, Knudson said.
The video picks up the story as Carothers continued north on Highway 51, running a red light at Beloit-Rock Townline Road.
Carothers reached speeds exceeding 80 mph as he sped north, Knudson said.
Carothers drove through stop sticks, lost tires and continued north.
He crossed the centerline several times as headlights could be seen coming from the other direction, then veering away as the vehicles got close.
“It almost looks to me like he's targeting those southbound vehicles,” Knudson said as he viewed the video with a Gazette reporter.
“That's what made it such an extreme threat,” Knudson added.
Carothers was in the southbound lanes with another set of headlights coming at him when a deputy nosed his squad ahead of the pickup truck's rear bumper and then jerked to the left and accelerated, pushing the truck into a spin.
The maneuver worked like a charm. The truck got stuck in a snow bank on the side of the road outside the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
Knudson said the deputy was using the PIT maneuver. PIT stands for precision immobilization technique.
Rock County deputies have trained to use the maneuver, but this was the first time they used it, Knudson said.
As officers approached, Carothers put a knife to his throat. His words can't be heard, but officers can be heard yelling that he has a knife and to back off.
At this point, the video switches from one squad car to another, and music from a classic rock station blares from the squad for much of the rest of the video.
Then for about 20 minutes, Carothers remained agitated, at times gesturing at officers, at times waving the knife.
“He was very threatening, both in the ways he spoke to the officers and to himself,” Knudson said.
Asked if Carothers was trying to get police to shoot him, Knudson said he couldn't comment on medical matters.
Knudson also declined comment when asked directly about Carothers' mental state.
A Janesville police negotiator arrived and took over talking to Carothers, Knudson said, but Carothers did not give up.
Officers had to maintain a "reactionary gap”: far enough away so that if he exited the truck, he could not immediately threaten officers' lives with the knife, Knudson said.
“I think you know what the likely result would be” if that happened, Knudson added.
Officers fired Tasers several times, but the barbs didn't penetrate Carothers' winter coat. Eventually, an officer sprayed pepper spray through the cab's back window, which was broken out.
Knudson said it appeared the spray dried on the hood of the coat, and the effects of the spray intensified as Carothers pulled the hood on.
Carothers climbed out the back window and sat with his legs inside the truck. He is seen spitting and snorting, apparently trying to rid himself of the stinging spray. Then he took off his coat, and an officer again fired a Taser. He fell back, and officers jumped into the truck bed.
The dots of laser sights can be seen on Carothers' back. Knudson said those are from Tasers, not firearms.
A struggle ensued as one officer held the wrist of the hand that held the knife.
“There's a number of officers trying to control him, and they're struggling,” Knudson said.
One officer struck Carothers' hand with a baton, but he still would not drop the knife, according to the complaint.
The town officer “got on top of Carothers and struck him four to five times with a closed fist in the back shoulder area in an attempt to get him to release his grip on a toolbox, which was in the bed of the pickup truck,” according to the complaint.
A police dog also jumped in the truck bed and seemed excited.
Knudson said the dog could have helped control the knife hand. But the dog did not bite, and it appears a snowblower in the truck bed kept the dog from reaching Carothers.
The dog was brought to the scene in case Carothers tried to run—the dog would have been able to tackle him faster than a human could, which could have kept him from using the knife on himself, Knudson said.
Officers gained control of Carothers and took him to the ground. The rest of the video shows very little of a continued struggle as officers tried to handcuff him.
Carothers probably suffered bruises and cuts from the Taser barbs, and he was checked out at a hospital. He had no significant injuries, Knudson said.
Knudson called the way officers handled the situation “textbook.”
If he had gotten free and started stabbing officers, they would have been justified in taking extreme measures, Knudson said.
It was clear Knudson meant those extreme measures could have included shooting Carothers.
“But I am certainly glad they were able to resolve it without going to that extreme,” Knudson said.
The deputies who jumped into the truck bed put themselves in harm's way, Knudson said, “and I think they deserve to be recognized for their service that night.”
Carothers has been charged in Rock County Court with second-degree recklessly endangering safety, fleeing a traffic officer and obstructing, along with several traffic citations that include second-offense intoxicated driving and driving while revoked.
Carothers, who is represented by a public defender, has pleaded not guilty. His next court appearance is March 2.
Knudson said the video shows complex issues that officers are likely to encounter and shows officers doing what they were trained to do.
“Once this (court case) is over, I think this is going to be a training video,” Knudson said.
The sheriff's office is considering commendations for the deputies, Knudson said.