KNOB NOSTER, Mo. (AP) -- The driver of a stolen pickup truck attempted to flee police and crashed into a tree along a highway, killing himself and his two young passengers, authorities said Monday.
A police officer had stopped Walter R. Rivers, 31, of Warrensburg, for speeding at 4:55 a.m. Sunday on Missouri 23. The truck had been reported stolen May 11 in Warrensburg.
As the officer approached, the truck's backup lights came on, said Lt. Jane Logan, a Knob Noster police spokeswoman. The officer then stepped onto the highway because he was worried the driver was going to pin him against his patrol car, she said.
The driver fled and the officer pursued as the truck reached speeds of 80 to 100 mph, Logan said. The chase lasted less than two minutes before the driver lost control as he crested a hill outside the city limits of Knob Noster, she said. The truck turned onto its side and skidded into a tree that is part of a fence line, crushing the cab, Logan said.
Rivers, his roommate's son, Stephen K. Hayes, 13, and the son's friend, Christian Lackey, 12, both of Warrensburg, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Police were investigating the possibility that the boys had been used to help with vehicle thefts and to steal items from vehicles, Logan said. No stolen property was found on either of the boys, she said.
She didn't know why the boys were driving around with Rivers at that hour.
Lackey's aunt, Carolyn Johnson, also wondered why the boys were riding around with Rivers so early in the morning, but she also questioned how police handled the matter.
"That mother put that man with those two little boys in a stolen truck. Police chased him. Why didn't the police back off?" Johnson asked.
Logan said although the department was saddened by the outcome, the officer involved in the chase followed proper procedures.
"He did exactly what I would have done," she said. "There was no fault to be found with the officer's choices."
Logan said Rivers' criminal background included a couple of charges for auto theft and stealing. He was found with more than 10 stolen credit cards in his pocket, belonging to at least four people, she said.
One of the cards was taken from a truck that was stolen May 23 from a Knob Noster apartment complex where seven other vehicles were broken into, she said. The truck was recovered two days later in Concordia.
The stolen credit card was used a week ago at a Wal-Mart store to purchase a gaming station and video games, Logan said. Police obtained store video camera footage and confirmed the person in the video is Rivers, she said.
The other credit cards were stolen from vehicles in Warrensburg, she said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)