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A suspected auto thief who was tracked from Windsor in a stolen vehicle and then threatened to kill two Sonoma County sheriff's deputies who stopped him near Petaluma was at the center of a large-scale law enforcement search in rural west Marin County on Friday, authorities said.

The man claimed to be armed with a gun when he threatened the deputies who stopped him outside Petaluma about half an hour after the SUV was first reported missing, sheriff's Lt. Tim Duke said.

He escaped after deputies twice hit him with a Taser stun gun, which had no apparent effect, Duke said.

Marin County officials said about two dozen law enforcement personnel from a variety of agencies were participating in a search for the subject in a hilly, wooded area around Woodacre, west of Fairfax, after he abandoned the car hours later.

The suspect was spotted a few times both by law enforcement and civilians around mid-day, but the densely wooded, uneven terrain obstructed his capture, Marin County Sheriff's Lt. Keith Boyd said.

"Due to the nature of the terrain, it's difficult to close the distance," Boyd said.

The search was canceled around 5 p.m. after the man had not been seen since 1:30 p.m.

A local Montessori school had opted to close for the day because of the law enforcement operation, he said. Another nearby school, San Geronimo Valley Elementary, was on lockdown, he said.

The suspect, described as a ponytailed white man in his 20s or 30s, about 5-foot-8 and weighing about 160 pounds, was on foot, having abandoned the vehicle, Boyd said.

"We're treating him as potentially armed, due to the incident in Sonoma County and his behavior and statements made to law enforcement," he said. "But we have not seen a firearm at this time."

Duke said deputies believe the suspect is the same man wanted in Calistoga and Santa Cruz in connection with earlier robberies or burglaries. Boyd declined to comment.

Sonoma County sheriff's deputies first began investigating the vehicle theft around 6 a.m. and learned an OnStar tracking device had been activated, permitting them to locate it.

Deputies tracked the dark-colored GMC to the Petaluma area and tried to pull over the driver, but an altercation ensued before the driver, unaffected by the stun gun, sped off, authorities said.

Marin County authorities were alerted as the suspect headed down Point Reyes—Petaluma Road toward the county line. A brief pursuit ensued when deputy spotted the SUV near Nicasio Reservoir, but the deputy then lost sight of it, Boyd said.

The SUV was tracked through Point Reyes Station, Olema and Bolinas before a Sonoma County deputy caught up with it on Bolinas-Fairfax Road. The deputy initiated another, brief pursuit that was terminated about one minute later because of public safety concerns as the suspect sped into the town of Fairfax, reportedly hitting a parked car and running a stop sign along the way.

At that point, the suspect was seen heading west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, and a short time later the car was found abandoned near Woodacre, officials said.

Authorities surrounded about a one-square-mile area for the search, Boyd said.

It included Marin and Sonoma county sheriff's deputies, the CHP, Marin County Fire, Marin Municipal Water District rangers, and Novato, Fairfax and Central Marin police, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.