A 29-year-old man, nearing the end of a 30-some mile high-speed chase from police, fired one round from a pistol in a casino with more than 40 people inside as he rushed through the building on Sunday, Missoula County prosecutors said Tuesday.
Charging documents filed this week against Matthew Van Valin allege he fired one round from a .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun as he entered the Gray Wolf Peak Casino on Sunday, after he crashed his vehicle into a pillar in front of the building.
Authorities do not allege he fired the weapon at anyone in particular. Police recovered the firearm, a shell casing and a bullet core after his arrest, according to court documents. Forty-eight people were inside the casino when the police chase came through the front doors.
Van Valin is charged with three counts of criminal endangerment in connection with the following allegations: one for weaving through law enforcement vehicles during the chase; another for discharging a firearm near the entryway of the Gray Wolf Peak Casino, and a third for causing danger to other drivers on Highway 93 as he sped away from Ronan police.
He is also charged with felony theft for allegedly stealing the car used in the chase from a City Brew parking lot in Missoula. Erika Spauling called 911 Sunday afternoon to report her car — in which she had left her beloved black Labrador, Onyx — had been stolen while she was inside.
Ronan authorities became aware of the stolen vehicle after Onyx was found at a gas station there several hours later. Ronan Police, Confederated Kootenai and Salish Tribal Police and Lake County Sheriff's deputies all pursued the stolen Jeep south. About 30 miles later, the stolen vehicle went over some "stop sticks" laid on the roadway by Missoula County Sheriff's deputies, destroying one of the Jeep's front tires.
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The chase continued as the stolen vehicle weaved through police vehicles and into the casino parking lot. After the gunshot, police followed the suspect to a rock, where he hid while law enforcement negotiated for his surrender for approximately five minutes, Missoula Deputy County Attorney Meghann Paddock said at Van Valin's initial court appearance on Tuesday.
"This was an extremely dangerous crime spree," Paddock told Missoula County Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway.
Van Valin appeared from the jail in a padded smock, presumably the same one he was seen wearing in his booking photo, taken Sunday evening.
Holloway set Van Valin's bail at $100,000.
Van Valin is currently on probation for an assault with a weapon charge from 2008 in Missoula County. Court records from that case show prosecutors recently sought to revoke his suspended sentence in that case for a strangulation charge filed against him in Yellowstone County last October.
His next court appearance in Missoula County is set for July 18.