The man in the pickup truck was driving 98 mph southbound on I-75 near Kennesaw, the State Patrol said. It wasn’t rush hour, yet.
But within minutes, traffic was forced to a halt and the six lanes of southbound I-75 became a crime scene. For several hours Wednesday, state and local investigators worked to determine what caused the alleged speeder to shoot at a Georgia state trooper, who was shot twice. But he and two other troopers at the scene returned fire, authorities said, and the pickup’s driver was shot multiple times.
The trooper survived, but the 26-year-old driver died late Wednesday. It took traffic through Cobb County nearly seven hours to recover.
Trooper Jacob Fields spotted the speeding Chevrolet pickup on I-75 near Chastain Road around 3:30 p.m., according to Capt. Mark Perry with the Georgia Department of Public Safety. But the man in the dark blue Silverado, with a Georgia license plate that read “IRODTRK,” showed no intention of stopping for the trooper on his trail.
For about 10 miles, Israel Vladimir Rodriguez, of Acworth refused to stop, even as other troopers joined the pursuit, police said. Even when troopers attempted to box in the truck, Rodriguez continued, investigators said. It was only when the truck hit the back of an SUV near Delk Road that the Rodriguez stopped, Perry said. And that was because the crash disabled the truck, he said.
“He didn’t stop,” Perry said. “He struck an innocent bystander before we could get him stopped.”
Rodriguez had nowhere to run at 3:30 in the afternoon on the interstate. He was heavily tattooed and wasn’t wearing a shirt, according to a witness. But he allegedly grabbed a gun and fired at Fields, a state trooper for three years, Perry said.
Fields was hit twice, in the lower leg and in the abdomen, just below his bullet-proof vest, Perry said. But Fields and two other troopers were able to return shots, striking Rodriguez multiple times, the State Patrol said.
As puzzled drivers looked on, I-75 southbound shut down.
Police closed the southbound lanes as paramedics treated Fields and Rodriguez, a normal busy lane of traffic becoming a temporary triage. Both men were taken by ambulance to nearby WellStar Kennestone Hospital, where Rodriguez was the first of the two to undergo surgery, Perry said.
Outside the hospital, Perry told reporters that despite his injuries, Fields was talking to doctors and his family members. Police said later in the evening that Fields was out of surgery and a full recovery was expected.
For the law enforcement community, it was a collective sigh of relief.
“I’m very grateful. I’m very thankful,” Perry said. “Sometimes you just have to be thankful for the grace of God. And you have to leave it in God’s hands and hope you do the right thing for the right reason.”
Around Marietta, some drivers caught in the afternoon’s events ended up at a local gas station, including one man who said he nearly ran out of gas.
Larry McMillian, from Marietta, ran into heavy traffic without ever getting on I-75 south. He was heading from Roswell to his house near Dobbins Air Reserve Base when traffic started backing up.
“I just started taking shortcuts, but everybody else was doing the same thing,” McMillian said. “I was almost out of gas. The needle was over the line.”
McMillian made it into the Franklin Road QuikTrip and refueled. A Michigan couple ended up at the same gas station.
Kay West of Commerce, Mich., and her husband were on a trip to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for a cruise when traffic stopped. The couple planned to stop at a son’s house in Duluth for dinner but was stuck in the same spot for two hours.
“We were supposed to have been at his house at 6, and here we are,” West said at 6:30 p.m.
Shortly after 10 p.m., all southbound lanes of I-75 re-opened.
Around 10:30 p.m., Rodriguez died at the hospital, according to a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI is assisting with the investigation.
The two uninjured troopers who fired shots were placed on routine administrative leave.
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Staff writers Jennifer Brett and Ben Gray contributed to this article.