DENVER -- An Army private and his buddy stole a tank-like armored vehicle with a 7-foot cannon from Fort Carson early Wednesday and went on a 75-mile joyride chased by dozens of patrol cars until it broke down near Denver, officials said.
'In 22 years on the force, I've never had anything happen like this,' said State Trooper Ray Elder. 'Dispatch called me at home and said a tank was coming up the road. I called them back five minutes later and said, 'A tank?''
Officials said the 27-ton, self-propelled howitzer was stolen from the motor pool by a private stationed at Fort Carson and a former soldier who carried a medically retired identification card and said he wanted to 'go to war.'
Authorities said they did not try to stop the 27-ton, self-propelled howitzer because they did not know if it was armed or the intentions of the men inside.
The two suspects -- Pvt. 2 John Clair, 19, of Schaumburg, Ill., and Roberto Torrez, 26, hometown unknown -- were arrested at about 3:30 a.m. MST and later returned to Fort Carson, along with the howitzer.
'The howitzer is back in its proper place and the suspects were transported back to Fort Carson,' said Sgt. John Millar of the base public affairs office.
'When the criminal investigations division completes its job, the civilian will be released to the FBI and our person will be held in pre-trial confinement.'
One State Patrol officer wondered at a possible connection between the suspect who was medically retired and the Veteran Administration Hospital, which is located only 10 blocks from where the motorized 155mm cannon stopped because of a mechanical breakdown.
'It's the first thing that crossed my mind,' said Sgt. Larry Tolar. 'Why would they have driven into that neighborhood?'
Army officials said Clair and Torrez broke into the Fort Carson motor pool about 1 a.m. and entered the field artillery vehicle, which carried no ammunition.
McKinney said Clair was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 29th Field Artillery and knew how to operate the weapon.
Asked by a military policeman why they did it, Torrez responded: 'To go to war.'
Capt. Robert McKinney, a spokesman for the base, said a retired military civilian saw the vehicle, which did not have any lights, turn onto Interstate 25 about 1:10 a.m. and notified the staff duty officer.
'The military people followed it all the way and were joined by dozens of local officers and the State Patrol along the way,' he said.
'We don't find much humor in this,' McKinney said. 'Our primary consideration is one of safety. We were anxious to preclude any damage to property or harm to individuals.'
The procession, traveling at a top speed of 45 mph, made its way north on the interstate, through Colorado Springs, Castle Rock and the suburbs south of Denver, before exiting on a ramp on the east side of the city. It went another four miles before the vehicle broke down. An Army official said there was enough fuel left to travel another 200 miles.
One Denver policeman left a ticket on the tank before it was loaded on a heavy equipment transport for its trip back to Fort Carson.
'He can't leave this thing parked here,' the officer joked.