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Suspect eluding police crashes, kills other driver

A suspect who was fleeing police Sunday allegedly crashed into and killed another driver, then plowed into a Lil' Pantry Market & Deli store in Central Point, causing a fire.

The name of the other driver has not been released pending notification of kin, Medford police said.

On Saturday night at approximately 11:54 p.m., Medford police contacted and attempted to stop Robert Franklin Brooks, 26, for a warrant in the parking lot of a Travelodge hotel on Alba Drive in Medford, according to Medford police.

Officers hit the suspect with tasers twice, but he allegedly was able to escape arrest and get to his vehicle. The suspect allegedly recklessly fled the parking lot and eluded police through east Medford and then up through north Medford, police said.

Medford police and several other surrounding agencies were working together to get the vehicle stopped. Brooks allegedly continued northbound onto Foothills Road and then turned westbound on Vilas Road. Assisting police and Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputies were able to put out spike strips and flatten at least three of the vehicle's tires, Medford police said.

The vehicle continued westbound on Vilas Road, where it struck another vehicle in the intersection of Vilas and Table roads.

The truck driven by Brooks plowed into the front of the Lil' Pantry at the corner of the intersection while the other vehicle came to rest on the south side of the building, according to police and firefighters.

Brooks was extricated from the truck by Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputies. There was substantial damage to the front of the truck, which was on fire, according to Medford police and Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

Firefighters were called to the fire at about 12:17 a.m. Sunday, according to Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

The fire spread to the convenience store and was beginning to spread to the roof. Jackson County Fire District No. 3, which was first on the scene, activated a second alarm, bringing more fire engines and firefighters from the fire district and Medford Fire-Rescue, according to the fire district.

Brooks was taken by ambulance to a local hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries, according to Medford police.

Firefighters divided up, with some battling the truck and convenience store blaze and others working to extricate the driver of the other vehicle.

Firefighters were able to extricate the other driver within eight minutes. That driver, who was transported to a hospital, was pronounced deceased, according to firefighters and police.

Other firefighters were able to make entry from the back of the convenience store and stop the fire, according to Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

Oregon State Police will be the lead investigating agency in the case and the Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit has been activated, Medford police said. 

"This incident will be thoroughly investigated and reviewed," Medford police said in a statement.

Medford police said their thoughts were with the deceased driver's family and friends.

A post about the incident on the Medford Police Department's Facebook page set off a flurry of comments, with some saying police did what they had to do in trying to chase down the suspect, while others criticized police for engaging in what they called a dangerous, high-speed chase that put innocent people at risk.

Workers were sweeping up debris and inspecting the damage to Lil' Pantry Sunday afternoon. The owner, who asked not to be named, said he was waiting for an insurance representative to come.

A large front window and the masonry wall below it were knocked out by the collision. The building and surrounding area were charred.

"The damage is like a bomb went off in there," the owner said.

In addition to two fire agencies, Medford police and sheriff's deputies, Central Point police, Oregon State Police and Mercy Flights were on scene, according to Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

Brooks was convicted of first-degree theft and unlawful entry into a motor vehicle in 2008, first-degree burglary in 2012 and first-degree theft, unauthorized use of a vehicle and reckless driving in 2014, according to court records.

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