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Pinalcchio: Renowned Forensics Experts Say a Pinal County Deputy's High-Profile Tale About Getting Shot After Encountering Drug Smugglers Doesn't Add Up 

Wednesday, Sep 22 2010
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Verizon records show that Brian Messing finally did contact Puroll at 4:04 p.m.

"I was asking him what was going on, telling him to stay back," the sergeant says. "I don't know how to describe it. You're in the mid-sentence of asking him how far away they are, and he says they're 150 to 200 yards away. He says, 'They're laying down, they're resting up.'

"I say, 'Don't move any closer.' Then, just like that, I hear the gunfire. A lot of shots. I could hear it in the background at a distance. Then I heard gunfire from his end start back. It boggled my mind. I got disconnected at that point."

Puroll dialed 911 seconds later.

Those 36 seconds — the "I've been hit!" call — later would be played across the nation and around the world.


Some of what transpired in the chaotic minutes after Deputy Puroll's 911 call is retraceable through dispatch recordings, reports, and interviews.

Sergeant Messing took almost two minutes — an eternity under the circumstances — to call in after he and Puroll got disconnected.

"I was talking to Louie and I started losing him and it started like shots being fired," he told the dispatcher.

She calmly told Messing that they were on it.

At 4:08 p.m., Puroll again got through to dispatch.

"I had to move," he said, speaking loudly.

Where have you been hit, the dispatcher asked him.

"Left side above my belt. I don't have time to look at it. AK-47 rounds. There's at least three of them with AK's, maybe more. I can't tell. I'm gonna shut up so they don't hear me. You got my [GPS] position, so get here!" the deputy replied.

"Here" was more than three miles from the Vija Truck Stop on I-8 and more than four miles to Double Gates Road (from where Puroll had driven into the desert).

Afterward, Pinal County Chief Deputy Steve Henry insisted to the news media that Puroll's would-be killers could have escaped in a "nearby" vehicle before law enforcement began to arrive en masse.

But it takes an average person 15 to 20 minutes to walk a mile, even without having to carry a heavy backpack up and down mountainous terrain.

GPS calculations by New Times show that the distance south from the shooting site to the closest dirt road passable by car (near the deputy's vehicle) is about three miles, which would take at least 45 minutes to travel on foot. It would have taken the smugglers about another 15 minutes by vehicle over the treacherous dirt road to I-8. The escape to the interstate within 30 minutes of "I've been hit!" call would have taken about an hour.

If the smugglers had, instead, continued to walk north after shooting Puroll, it would have taken them about 20 minutes on foot to get to a different dirt road drivable by vehicle. (New Times walked from this road to the scene in about 20 minutes, not toting a heavy backpack).

Then it would have taken them another 20 minutes to get to the rear of the Vija Truck Stop at I-8 and State Route 347 — about 40 minutes in all.

Certainly, the situation initially was fluid. "There were so many cops it was like an FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] convention out there," Sergeant Hausman recalls.

But what was the likelihood of six smugglers (with at least two would-be cop killers in the bunch) slithering away from the police in broad daylight with their cache of marijuana?

"We learned a lot from the situation," Sheriff Babeu says, "about how to be better prepared and react and to marshal our forces so that bad guys aren't able to escape like these guys did. It was very unfortunate that they got away."

By about 5 p.m., the Pinal County Sheriff's Office set up a makeshift command post just off I-8 near Double Gates Road.

Puroll was on his cell phone almost constantly until the helicopter picked him up, conversing with Sergeant Messing several times.

"He told me he couldn't look at the wound," Messing recalls. "I asked him if it was gushing blood, and he said it wasn't."

Puroll was somewhere south of the shooting site, but apparently some distance from where he had parked his Tahoe hours earlier.

"Getting shot ain't no fun at all," he told a dispatcher at one point.

A few minutes later, Puroll blurted, "I'm gonna go. I'm gonna get busy here in just a minute."

The dispatcher asked him what was going on.

"The guys with the rifles are coming back. I'm gonna try to make it back to my truck. Bye."

The deputy then hung up.

The DPS helicopter pilot lifted Puroll out of the desert about 5:20 and took him to the command post.

Puroll spoke there with Sheriff Babeu before an ambulance took him to the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center for treatment.


Pinal County deputies found the apparent shooting site near Antelope Peak before nightfall.

It was familiar to the deputies who work search-and-rescue, a final resting stop for untold undocumented immigrants before they walk the last few miles to I-8 on their way to Phoenix.

"It's a natural bottleneck," Puroll said later, "and it's the only practical way for a person to walk, unless you just want to go straight across country over mountains."

The site is an environmental disaster, with literally hundreds of plastic water bottles, ratty old backpacks, tattered clothing, the remnants of Mexican pharmaceuticals, blankets, and other rolls of toilet paper.

The officers eyed lots of ammunition, both expended and unexpended, in the "bottleneck," including dozens of shell casings clustered near the top of the ridge.

They also saw a Glock handgun near the spent casings.

About The Author

Paul Rubin

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