February 28, 2010
By Chris Conrad
MEDFORD — What started as a routine test drive ended in violence Saturday for a Lithia Toyota car salesman who had less than two weeks on the job.
Robert Joe Johnson, 32, is recovering from a bullet wound to the abdomen after he was shot in a parking lot off East McAndrews Road during an alleged carjacking.
Johnson needed surgery for his wound, but was able to speak to police about the attack that left him bleeding on the parking lot of the First Nazarene Church at the corner of East McAndrews and Wabash Avenue, Medford police Chief Randy Schoen said.
"It appears he will survive the assault," Schoen said. "But it could have turned out much worse."
Johnson, a salesman with Lithia Toyota of Medford, was giving the suspect a test drive of a Ford Mustang just before noon when they pulled into the church parking lot to switch drivers, Schoen said.
The suspect, later identified as 49-year-old Clayton Emil Huff of Eagle Point, then brandished a gun and ordered Johnson to get in the trunk of the Mustang.
A struggle ensued after Johnson refused to enter the trunk, a move praised by Schoen.
"Even though he ended up with a serious wound, not getting in that trunk could have saved his life," Schoen said. "Who knows what would have happened once the suspect had him in that situation."
At some point during the struggle, Johnson was shot. Passersby who heard the gunshot and witnessed the fight called police who rushed to the scene to find Johnson sprawled on the blacktop.
The arriving officer saw Huff speed away in the Mustang and radioed other officers to the direction he was heading. That officer stayed on the scene to assist Johnson.
Additional officers pursed the Mustang on Crater Lake Avenue to Highway 62. The chase reached high speeds as Huff eventually turned onto Highway 140 heading toward Klamath Falls. He then turned onto Obenchain Road just east of Eagle Point where the pursuit would soon end after he crashed the Mustang in a field.
Jackson County sheriff's deputies in the area joined the pursuit and the agency prepared two helicopters to aide in the chase from above, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said.
"We were getting ready to get the helicopters in the air when the suspect veered off the road and into a field off Highway 140 and Obenchain Road," Winters said.
Huff was arrested without incident and was being questioned by Medford detectives late Saturday. He was treated for bumps and bruises suffered in the crash that ended the pursuit.
At the church, police roped off the entire parking lot and scoured the area for shell casings, blood drops and other evidence.
Schoen said a gun was recovered at a spot where the shooting happened. He did not identify what caliber or type of gun was used in the attack.
Detectives set up a command center for briefings in a community building attached to the church. They planned to work there late into the night, Schoen said.
The chief said officers could search Huff's home in Eagle Point for additional evidence linking him to the shooting.
"There is a lot of investigating that needs to be done in this case before we can move forward," Schoen said. "We don't often have these types of shootings here in Medford."
Huff faces charges of attempted aggravated murder, first-degree assault, first-degree robbery, unlawful use of a motor vehicle and felony eluding police in a vehicle.
Attempted aggravated murder is a Measure 11 crime that carries a mandatory 10-year prison sentence upon conviction. The assault and robbery charges each carry mandatory sentences of 7 years, 6 months.
Schoen said it's usually a good idea to comply with an armed robber's request, but that advice does not always hold true.
"If they just want your property you should give it to them, but if they want you to come with them or they want to force you into a confined space, you should do what you can to get away," Schoen said. "The victim here made the correct decision."Lithia Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sid DeBoer was shocked at the news that one of his salesman was shot on duty.
"We can't believe it," DeBoer said. "What a world we live in."
DeBoer said Johnson was new to Lithia, with only around 10 days on the job prior to the shooting. He said it's common practice for salesmen giving test drives to use the First Church of the Nazarene parking lot to change driving duties to the potential buyer.
"We are going to keep in close contact with (Johnson) and hope that he can come back to work soon," DeBoer said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tags: toyota, car jacking, test drive, salesman
Location: Medford, Massachusetts, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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