By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A passing motorist in Arizona fatally shot a man who had ambushed and wounded a state police officer along an interstate highway on Thursday, authorities said.
The unidentified motorist saw the attacker "getting the better" of a state trooper who had been shot in the shoulder and pulled over to ask the officer if he could help, state Department of Public Safety Director Colonel Frank Milstead told a news conference. The incident took place west of Phoenix.
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The male officer, a veteran of 27 years whose name was not immediately released, suffered a severe wound, but was expected to survive, Milstead said.
The man police said attacked the officer was not identified.
"I don't know that my trooper would be alive today without his assistance," Milstead said of the civilian.
It was too early to know whether the motorist will face any charges in connection with the shooting, said department spokesman Bart Graves.
After getting permission from the trooper, Milstead said the civilian retrieved a gun from his car and ordered the attacker to stop.
"The suspect refuses (and) the uninvolved third party fires, striking and killing the suspect," Milstead said. The civilian then picked up the trooper's radio and summoned assistance.
Milstead said he had not yet had a chance to speak to the man, who was traveling with his wife to California at the time.
Investigators said the officer was on his way to a call of shots fired at a vehicle at about 4:20 a.m. when he encountered a rollover accident.
He exited his vehicle and began laying out flares when he was attacked, shot and became engaged in a pitched fight with his attacker, Milstead said. The motorist saw the officer struggling with the attacker and asked if he could intervene.
An initial investigation indicates the attacker was in the rollover accident that also claimed the life of a woman, who was ejected from the car in the crash, authorities said. There was no immediate indication of a motive for the attack.
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Ben Klayman and Sandra Maler)