KALISPELL — A high-speed pursuit of a homicide suspect ended in a deadly shootout in Woods Bay just south of Bigfork on June of 2020.
The two law enforcement officers involved in the shootout recently received national recognition for their bravery and service in the most dangerous of situations.
“I mean god was on our side for sure, and that’s the only reason why I’m here today,” Flathead County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matt Vander Ark told MTN News.
An armed homicide suspect was driving more than 110 mph on Montana Highway 35 through Bigfork in June of 2020 leading law enforcement on a dangerous pursuit.
“There was no question in my mind that if we didn’t get him, that he was going to go and do the same thing again,” said Deputy Vander Ark.
Spike strips were deployed by law enforcement in Woods Bay slowing down the suspect's vehicle enough for Deputy Vander Ark to deploy a PIT maneuver.
“That’s when I saw he had a gun pointed right at me and as his vehicle spun around, he actually shot the first round toward me and toward Montana Highway Patrolmen Sergeant Jerril Ren and it was trying to protect our own lives at that point,” said Deputy Vander Ark.
As the suspect fired rounds at Deputy Vander Ark and Sergeant Ren, the two officers relied on years of training preparing for dangerous situations.
“I believe that had I had not had that training, I don’t know if it would’ve come out the same, but I’ve been very thankful that I didn’t have to think, I just reacted based on my training,” said Sgt. Ren.
The suspect died on scene while both Deputy Vander Ark and Sgt. Ren were able to escape without injury.
“I was extremely fearful when it was all going down that Matt had been shot and you know I just did what I had to do,” added Sgt. Ren.
Sgt. Ren and Deputy Vander Ark were recently nationally recognized for their bravery and service in Washington DC, receiving Honorable Mention “Top Cop" honors for the State of Montana through the National Association of Police Organizations.
The two officers were humbled by the recognition, but say they were just doing their jobs protecting the Flathead community, like any of their teammates would.
“I’m honored that I could go to Washington DC to represent Montana and Flathead County specifically, yeah I mean it definitely feels good but at the same time that’s not why we do this job, we’re here to support the community in any way we can,” said Deputy Vander Ark.
The two now share a special bond, as they put on their uniforms each morning to protect and serve.
“I feel like he’s my brother, I mean we may wear different uniforms and work for different agencies but we both experienced the worst situation of any career and thankfully we both were able to walk away,” said Sgt. Ren.