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Man sentenced in Highway 66 chase case

A man was sentenced Wednesday in an eluding police case in which one of his companions fled into the woods and died of exposure and hypothermia east of Ashland.

Levi Steven Cortez, 26, of Klamath Falls was sentenced in Jackson County Circuit Court to 13 months in prison for his role in the crimes.

He pleaded guilty to attempt to commit first-degree assault and unlawful possession of a destructive device. Charges of manufacture, possession and delivery of dealer quantities of methamphetamine and unlawful manufacture of a destructive device were dismissed.

"I would just like to apologize," Cortez said to Judge Timothy Barnack, speaking via a television monitor from the Jackson County Jail, where he has been held on $500,000 bail.

On. Dec. 19, 2014, Cortez was a rear-seat passenger in a Ford SUV driven by 32-year-old Klamath Falls resident Christopher Scott Sellars, who later died. Co-defendant William Anthony Noble, 25, of Klamath Falls was in the front passenger seat, according to court records.

Oregon State Police attempted to pull over Sellars for a traffic violation on Highway 66 in Klamath County, but Sellars took off and led them 39 miles west on a high-speed chase into Jackson County, according to OSP.

Along the way, Noble in the front seat demanded that Cortez in the back seat hand him a gas can, according to Cortez's court-appointed defense attorney, David Orf. Noble lit the gas can on fire and threw it at police, Orf said.

During the chase, one of the men in the vehicle called 9-1-1 to report that bombs had been placed at Klamath Falls schools, which led to evacuations. After searching the schools, investigators determined there were no bombs.

According to Cortez, Noble talked about shooting police during the chase with a gun that was in the SUV. Police later found a 9 mm handgun on the center console of the SUV, according to an affidavit.

Sellars stopped near milepost 18 and he and Noble fled into the woods on a cold, rainy night. Noble surrendered the next morning at a home, according to police.

Cortez didn't run and was taken into custody, according to OSP.

"He was the one who stayed on scene and cooperated fully with the investigation," Orf said. "It was a case of bad timing, bad luck and a very bad choice of associates."

Law enforcement personnel searched for Sellars but did not find him.

Michael Parker, a professor of environmental education at Southern Oregon University, spotted Sellars' body while he was with students on a field trip Jan. 30.

Noble is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 18 on charges of manufacture, delivery and possession of dealer quantities of methamphetamine, attempt to commit first-degree assault, and unlawful manufacture and possession of a destructive device. He remains in jail on $800,000 bail.

In December, when Sellars was still missing in the woods, he was indicted on those same charges, plus attempting to elude police and felon in possession of a firearm. He was previously convicted in Klamath County Circuit Court for first-degree burglary.

Cortez has a 2008 conviction for third-degree assault and faces third-degree rape and third-degree sexual abuse charges stemming from a 2011 case, according to Klamath County Circuit Court records.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.