More information has become available about a wild, high-speed chase that tore through North Platte the morning of June 4 during a 40-mile pursuit from Gothenburg to Hershey.
The driver and suspect, Luke E. Lefever, 30, stopped only after he was shot and wounded by law officers in a farm field.
Court and prison records show Lefever has a long criminal history in Custer County. He was a suspected dealer who was bringing drugs from the Front Range into west central Nebraska – Kearney, North Platte and Broken Bow — according to sources who asked to remain anonymous.
After he was shot, Lefever was taken by ambulance to Great Plains Health and then flown to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where his wounded right leg was amputated.
According to court records, the leg contained several bullet fragments.
Apparently, Lefever had been staying out of sight of the law for a long time. He ran out of luck that morning.
He needed a tire on his car, which turned out to be the thing that did him in.
According to a court affidavit, Lefever was parked on Road 409, a mile north of U.S. Highway 30, near the old Wild Horse Golf club just east of Gothenburg.
A sheriff’s deputy drove up behind him, in response to a 911 call about a suspicious vehicle.
The deputy arrived around 8:19 a.m. and found Lefever in the driver’s seat, according to the court affidavit.
Lefever reportedly told the deputy he had tire problems and was stuck there on the road.
He got out of the car and they talked, the deputy on the passenger side and Lefever on the driver’s side.
The deputy took his name and birthdate and went back to his cruiser to check for warrants. Lefever began to work on the driver’s side rear tire. He had three other tires and tools nearby, as well as a bag of marijuana that looked like it came from a Colorado dispensary, according to the affidavit.
The deputy found that Lefever’s driver’s license was suspended, so he went back to the car — a white Chevy Malibu — and told Lefever he couldn’t drive it.
Lefever said he didn’t have drugs or weapons in the car, just the bag of pot that was near the tires.
He declined to let the deputy search the car and soon, he just began to walk away.
The deputy tried to restrain him. A struggle ensued and Lefever got away.
The deputy called the Gothenburg police for help at 8:27 a.m., according to a North Platte police report.
Lefever confronted another rural resident not far away, stole a Utility Terrain Vehicle and took off across rural property, with officers in pursuit, according to the North Platte police report.
He allegedly drove the UTV to another rural home, where he upgraded, stealing a 2003 Chevrolet pickup with a flatbed utility trailer attached.
The chase continued. Near the initial stages of the pursuit, shots were fired, Nebraska State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas said. Lefever cut through Gothenburg and headed west on I-80.
The chase was a wild one, according to police reports.
Lefever reportedly weaved in and out of traffic. He drove the stolen pickup through fences, across crop fields and back on I-80. He ended up in the eastbound lanes, still driving west.
When he reached North Platte, he went up the eastbound ramp of the interchange, according to the court affidavit. His pursuers lost track of him in North Platte, but soon found him again.
Meanwhile, a state trooper who was apparently checking State Farm Road collided with a northbound car at the intersection of U.S. Highway 83. The trooper T-boned the car in the middle of the intersection. The car had a green light. There were children in the car but thankfully no one was hurt, according to the accident report.
Meanwhile, the suspect sped through North Platte around 9:15 a.m., a witness told the Bulletin.
According to the police report, officers picked up the trail again, heading west of North Platte on U.S. Highway 30.
About a mile east of Hershey, Lefever allegedly turned north off U.S. 30 onto Parkway Rd. and drove two miles north to Suburban Rd.
According to a North Platte police report, the pickup drove across private property for a short time and then tried to get back up on the road, and as he did, he tried to ram a law enforcement vehicle.
A court affidavit tells a slightly different story. The affidavit, signed by a North Platte police officer, said a state trooper tried to end the chase by ramming the stolen pickup with his vehicle, but the pickup was not disabled.
Both accounts said the chase ended in gunfire, and the pickup finally came to a stop in a field off the road.
Officers approached with caution. When they got close enough, they saw that the suspect was wounded multiple times. He was said to be bleeding badly.
The shots were fired by more than one officer, including sheriff’s deputies and a Nebraska State Trooper, according to police and court records.
When Lefever was searched, he was found to be carrying an assault rifle bullet in his pocket, according to the court affidavit. The rifle itself was reportedly back in his car, which was still parked on the county road east of Gothenburg. He also tested positive for methamphetamine and barbiturates. He ended up at the Omaha Medical Center.
The Malibu car was searched later in Dawson County. A loaded 9 mm handgun and a loaded DPMS 223 model rifle – commonly known as an assault rifle – were found inside. So was a loaded syringe, a rifle scope, sets of license plates from both Colorado and New York, ammunition, a locked safe and related items, according to the court affidavit.
All that has become part of evidence in the case. So are the bullets and/or fragments that were removed from Lefever’s amputated leg at the medical center.
This might be the last time that Luke E. Lefever tries to run from the law, but it was not the first time. He tried to outrun the authorities in Custer County in 2010.
In August that year, he was charged with willful reckless driving and flight to avoid arrest, as well as possession of a stolen firearm and possession of methamphetamine in Custer County, according to a report in the Custer County Chief newspaper.
The Custer County charges, although they were reduced, led to a three-year prison sentence that began in 2011.
Custer County court records show more than 30 cases against Lefever over a span of 16 years. His criminal record includes three stints in the Nebraska Penitentiary during the years 2007-14.
Lefever may have trouble walking again, let alone running from the law, after the fateful day when tire trouble and suspicious behavior let the law catch up with him.
(This follow up report was first published in the Bulletin’s June 27 print edition.)