LOLO – A manhunt continued Tuesday in a western Montana forest for a former militia leader accused of firing on Missoula County deputies and then fleeing into the woods, where authorities say they’ve found caches of weapons, food and gear.
Missoula County Undersheriff Mike Dominick said ex-convict David Burgert, 47, appears to have had a plan following the exchange of gunfire Sunday along a logging trail after a slow-speed chase near Lolo on U.S. Highway 12.
Dominick said police found a second vehicle in the area loaded with ammunition and food and are searching for a third vehicle they believe Burgert might also be using.
Officials involved in the search believe Burgert might have been able to escape the area in that vehicle, a 1987 Jeep Wagoneer, Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said.
Burgert is the former leader of a Flathead County militia group known as Project 7, named for the number “7” on Flathead County license plates in Montana. Project 7 allegedly plotted to assassinate local officials, go to war with the National Guard and overthrow the federal government.
“I could best describe him as a bully,” Curry said. “He’s one of those people you’re constantly dealing with — confrontations with law enforcement, confrontations with neighbors.”
Burgert is 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighs 230 pounds, and has brown eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing a bluish shirt and a fanny pack and is believed to be armed with a handgun and possibly a rifle. Authorities believe he had been living out of a vehicle in the area, and searchers have discovered several caches of food in the search area, Dominick said.
Agents from the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service; Missoula police; Missoula County sheriff’s deputies; and law enforcement officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Montana National Guard were looking for Burgert in a rugged, sparsely populated area of Lolo National Forest, Dominick said.
A National Guard helicopter and a police dog were brought in to assist the searchers, totaling 65 personnel in all.
Authorities have been contacting Burgert’s former associates in case he attempts to return to Kalispell, his former home, Curry said Tuesday.
Curry was in charge of the Flathead SWAT team when Burgert was subject to a similar manhunt in February 2002.
Prior that incident Burgert had attempted to stage his death along the Kalispell River to escape authorities. When officers later pulled over a vehicle Burgert was driving with his girlfriend as a passenger, Curry said Burgert bailed out and ran through the woods, sparking an all-night chase that ended the next morning with Burgert cornered and holding a gun to his head.
After a standoff of several hours, Burgert surrendered, Curry said.
He was sentenced in 2004 to 10 years in prison.
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