What began as the theft of about $1,000 worth of power tools in Fort Morgan ended with a high speed chase that caused a fiery head-on collision that left a Denver-area couple injured and the suspect fighting for his life with serious burns after he was pulled from the mangled wreckage of his burning pickup truck.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office says it all started at around 6 p.m. Sunday, when an off-duty investigator saw the suspect walking out of a Murdoch’s with an armful of power tools.

Deputies say an employee was chasing the unidentified man and yelling for him to stop. He took off in a pickup truck, and the investigator followed him while calling 911.

The vehicle belonging to a Denver-area couple that was hit head-on by a shoplifting suspect. 

The sheriff’s office says the suspect parked his pickup a short distance away, and when the investigator tried to block him, he backed into their vehicle and sped away down Highway 34.

Colorado State Patrol later spotted the suspect merging onto westbound Interstate 76, but when the driver saw the troopers, they say he cut across the median and drove onto the eastbound lanes – against traffic.

Authorities say the man was driving recklessly, including off the south side of the eastbound lane and onto the railroad tracks and through Highway 6 into Wiggins – reaching speeds of 120 to 130 miles per hour.

Police say the suspect later got back onto I-76 – once again going the wrong way – as they followed with their emergency lights acting as a warning to approaching vehicles.

The man inside was able to get out on his own. The woman was seriously injured and had to be extricated from the vehicle. 

One deputy tried to knock the pickup on the road, but the sheriff’s office said he couldn’t “without risking oncoming traffic himself.” He drove onto the median – and that’s when deputies say the suspect plowed into a car head on – leaving a woman inside seriously injured and trapped. The man driving that vehicle was able to get out on his own.

The suspect’s pickup, meanwhile, flipped several yards off the highway and immediately caught fire. The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office says the suspect was trapped inside the pickup truck and was unconscious.

Authorities from multiple agencies were able to knock down the fire using fire extinguishers. A MCSO sergeant was able to pull the suspect – whose clothing was on fire – out of the burning pickup shortly before it became entirely engulfed in flames.

The sheriff’s office says the man had serious burns over about half his body, and serious trauma from the impact. He was airlifted to University Hospital in Aurora in critical condition.

The woman inside the vehicle he hit was airlifted to Medical Center of the Rockies before she was taken by ambulance to North Colorado Medical Center. He condition is unknown.

The mangled remains of the suspect's vehicle. 

Deputies haven’t identified the suspect, but say if he survives, he could face charges including attempted murder by extreme indifference.

The investigation prompted authorities to close the eastbound lanes of I-76 east of Roggen for around two hours. It has since reopened.

The sheriff’s office asks anyone who witnessed the incident or who was almost hit by the suspect to call 970-867-2461 to speak to an investigator, or email: jcrone@co.morgan.co.us .