A suicidal Helena man who led law officers on a long high-speed chase through two counties was killed Thursday night during a shootout near East Glacier.
After a pursuit that went from West Glacier over Marias Pass and into Glacier County, James Marlowe Ness, 71, was shot during an exchange of gunfire with officers from Blackfeet Tribal Police and the Glacier County Sheriff’s Office.
“Ness was struck during the exchange and died upon arrival at the hospital,” according to a press release late Friday from the FBI.
Flathead County deputies and Montana Highway Patrol troopers also were at the scene on U.S. 2 midway between Marias Pass and East Glacier.
The drama began to unfold at 7:57 p.m. Thursday when an OnStar representative called the Flathead County 911 dispatch and said Ness had been reported missing to the Helena Police Department and was suicidal, armed with a shotgun.
Ness was driving a white 2012 GMC Yukon that had been tracked to Montana 35, heading north toward Kalispell.
The OnStar caller also told the dispatcher that the man had not made any statements to hurt himself, but his wife said he was depressed, had a history of alcohol abuse and was on an antidepressant medication.
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said deputies caught up with Ness on U.S. 2 in West Glacier, where a pursuit began that reached speeds of more than 90 miles per hour. Deputies eventually slowed and lost sight of Ness.
“We actually backed off, because of the speeds, around Essex, maybe a little before,” Curry said. “Just passing Essex, they lost sight of him.”
According to Montana Department of Transportation road reports, U.S. 2 at the time had blowing and drifting snow as well as ice.
Curry said a spike strip was laid out by law enforcement just inside Glacier County, but Ness was able to avoid the strip while still traveling at a high rate of speed. A dispatch log indicates Ness later drove over a spike strip six miles east of Marias Pass, stopping his vehicle.
What exactly transpired between Ness and law enforcement after he stopped isn’t entirely clear, although a dispatch log indicates that at one point he got out of the vehicle and pointed a shotgun at Glacier County deputies before getting back into the parked vehicle.
Curry said that while his deputies eventually responded to the scene, they initially stopped at the county line while awaiting a request for assistance from their Glacier County counterparts.
“We had our dispatch contact them, and finally Glacier County said, ‘Yes, they’d like us to continue,’” Curry said. “Our guys got on scene and said there were more patrol cars than they’d seen in their lives. They only expected there would be a couple of officers.”
He said that his deputies helped facilitate with OnStar but weren’t involved in the shooting.
An investigation by the FBI is continuing, and a coroner’s inquest is being conducted by the Toole County coroner.
The incident affected traffic on U.S. 2 for hours.
Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.