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Police search for pursuit suspect near Hyatt Lake

State police arrested two Klamath Falls men and are still searching for a third east of Ashland after a pursuit on Highway 66 Friday night led to explosives allegedly being thrown at police, sparking a multi-agency manhunt near Hyatt Lake that shut down the entire length of the highway.

According to Oregon State Police, the pursuit began at 7:11 p.m. Friday when a trooper tried to pull over a 1999 Ford SUV headed west on Highway 66 near Klamath Falls. Police say the driver of the vehicle attempted to elude pursuing officers and that at one point one of the occupants threw an explosive device at the troopers. State police Lt. Steve Mitchell described the explosive as an "incendiary device," and said it didn't deter the pursuit.

Police say bomb threats were also made to two local schools in the Klamath Falls area by one of the suspects during the pursuit, but were determined to be unfounded. The Herald & News in Klamath Falls reported that Henley High School was evacuated and, according to the Oregon School Activities Association, its scheduled boys' home basketball game against Eagle Point was canceled.

When troopers finally stopped the SUV near milepost 18, authorities say one of the occupants, 25-year-old Levi Cortez of Klamath Falls, surrendered to them at the scene. Police say two others, identified as 32-year-old Christopher Sellars and 24-year-old William Noble, both also of Klamath Falls, fled on foot into the Hyatt Lake area.

Cortez is being held in the Jackson County Jail on charges of conspiracy and attempted first-degree assault, first-degree arson and unlawful manufacture and possession of a destructive device. Bail is set at $95,000. According to Klamath County Circuit Court records, Cortez has a 2008 conviction for third-degree assault and is scheduled for trial in March on charges of third-degree rape and third-degree sexual abuse stemming from a 2011 case.

Noble turned himself in Saturday morning at a residence near milepost 19, and was lodged in the jail on the same charges as Cortez, as well as attempted assault on a police officer and felon in possession of a weapon. His bail has been set at $100,000.

The events leading up to the trio's encounter with law enforcement, or their personal affiliations, remain unclear. Photos on Noble's personal Facebook profile show him and Cortez shirtless, covered in tattoos and adopting boxers' stances. Other photos appear to depict Noble flashing gang hand signs, and in one wearing a gas-mask bong and holding a shotgun.

Sellars has prior felony convictions for first-degree burglary and possession of a Schedule II controlled substance and, according to court records, has an outstanding warrant from Klamath County from 2010 for failure to appear on a charge of possession of methamphetamine. According to his Facebook profile, he was recently living in the Redding, Calif., area.

Because of the bomb threat, the Oregon State Police Arson and Explosives Unit was called out to perform a "render safe" operation on the SUV, Mitchell said. Troopers assigned to the state police SWAT team were paged out to search for the suspects and were joined by Jackson County sheriff's deputies. Police reopened the highway at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday but were still searching for Sellars as darkness fell later in the day. 

Police are asking anyone who notices suspicious persons or circumstances in the area of Hyatt Lake off Highway 66 to call 911 or the Oregon State Police Southern Command dispatch center at 541-776-6111.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

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Christopher Sellars is at large. OSP photo
Levi Cortez is in custody. Jackson County Jail photo