Bodycam shows man stealing Juab County sheriff's vehicle and uses the rifle to shoot at the troopers
2News obtained new video showing a man steal a Juab County Sheriff’s Office vehicle after he was pulled over on I-15 for a traffic violation.
The incident happened on May 19, 2021, just south of the Yuba State Park exit on I-15 northbound.
James Klein was removed from his vehicle after officers thought Klein’s vehicle had drugs inside.
A Juab County officer put Klein into the front seat of his patrol vehicle without handcuffs. The officer realized Klein’s license was revoked and asked Klein repeatedly if he had any drugs in the vehicle; to which he replied “no,” and “no, sir”. After Klein consented to the search of his vehicle, the officer left him alone in the car. Deputies removed his passenger from the car. Roughly a minute later, Klein moved into the driver’s side of the patrol vehicle and drove away.
“In my head, I’m like ‘did that just happen’, and I’m like ‘yep it did, let’s go’,” said Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Dustin Griffiths, who pulled up on I-15 to assist the Juab County deputies with the stop. When Griffith’s arrived, Klein was already in the front seat of the patrol car. In both body camera video and dash camera video obtained by 2News, you can see Trooper Griffith’s quickly yell, “Hey, he’s stealing your car!”. Seconds later, Griffith’s is behind the wheel of his UHP vehicle and pursuing Klein towards Exit 202 (Yuba State Park).
Klein loses control of the Juab County vehicle and high-centered the vehicle on the north side of Old Yuba Dam Road after the exit off-ramp. He was able to access the Juab County rifle, a Colt Defense 5.56, inside of the vehicle.
“As I got out of my car, I saw that he had a gun,” said Tpr. Griffith’s to 2News’ Brian Schnee. “Got behind my patrol car for cover and that’s when I heard the first pop go off.”
As Klein began to shoot at Tpr. Griffith’s; he returned fire. His UHP vehicle was hit numerous times.
Veteran UHP Tpr. Jeff Blankenagel also arrived at the off-ramp just seconds behind Trooper Griffiths.
“So I’ve had a pretty storied career, that was definitely the wildest event I’ve been in,” said Trooper Blankenagel. “This is probably the closest I’ve come to not making it home to my family at the end of the day.”
As Klein continued to shoot at both Troopers, a few civilian vehicles drove near or into the scene of the shooting.
“A lot of chaos and a feeling of helplessness,” described Trooper Blankenagel. “As other people ventured into the scene and just not having the power of capabilities to prevent bad things from happening.”
Klein ran up to a Ford Escape as it approached the I-15 entrance. He pointed the rifle into the vehicle and fired numerous shots.
“As he was interacting with the other victims, as I’m looking through the sights of the rifle, I’m trying to figure out how to keep him from leaving the scene and hurting anyone else,” said Trooper Blankenagel.
Klein attempted to carjack the vehicle but was unsuccessful. He continued to take cover behind the stolen Sheriff’s vehicle and the gunfire continued.
“This is probably the closest I’ve come to not making it home to my family at the end of the day,” said Trooper Blankenagel. “We re-live this every day as we work through the area and as we go past that area, it’s something that plays through my mind every time I drive thru there.”
Despite being shot in the leg, Klein eventually left the area by maneuvering through an underground culvert. He was located hours later lying on his back under a layer of mud in the Sevier River. According to court documents, the gun used to shoot at officers and citizens was buried underneath him. In June, Klein was sentenced to 25 years in prison. At the time of the incident in Utah, Klein had been released pending trial for another incident involving him shooting at officers in Minnesota on March 16, 2020.
After Klein was in custody, officers located nine pounds of methamphetamine and a gun in his vehicle that was pulled over on the initial traffic stop. Klein had previously been convicted in 2013 for a drug trafficking felony, which he served time for. Klein’s passenger, Jeniffer Huang, also had meth located on her person when she was booked into jail after the incident.
Both UHP troopers were not injured and say they occasionally watch the body camera footage from that day.
“The gunfire and the worry for him (Tpr. Griffith’s) and I’m sure he had the same worry for me; that we’ve got to make sure we get each other home at the end of the day,” said Tpr. Blankenagel.
2News spoke to the couple who Klein tried to carjack that day. Years later, they’re still wondering how Klein was able to easily access the Sheriff’s office vehicle and the rifle used to shoot at Troopers and themselves. Hear from them Tuesday, November, 7; only on 2News at 10 p.m.