Deputies pull man from car at gunpoint after GPS mixup

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A misstep by a company that tracks stolen vehicles using GPS sent authorities chasing after the wrong truck Friday, causing a multi-county pursuit that briefly stopped traffic on Highway 101 in Santa Rosa where deputies held an innocent man at gunpoint, CHP officials said.

GuidePoint, a stolen vehicle recovery system firm headquartered in Michigan, apparently installed GPS tracking devices on a fleet of company vehicles and alerted authorities Friday afternoon that a gray Dodge Ram 3500 had been stolen, Officer Marcus Hawkins said.

The company activated GPS to track the gray Dodge, but because of an unknown mix-up, they instead began tracking a white Ford owned by the same company that was heading from Mendocino County south on Highway 101, Hawkins said.

Authorities began trying to spot the truck, aided by continued updates from GuidePoint on the GPS coordinates.

In Sonoma County, a phalanx of patrol deputies and officers from multiple agencies staged along the highway looking for the truck. Two helicopters aided the search from the air.

The GPS information led a team of sheriff’s deputies to pull over a white Ford truck near Hearn Avenue for a “high-risk felony stop,” a technique used to intercept vehicles with unknown and potentially dangerous suspects, Hawkins said.

The deputies stopped all southbound traffic and held the driver at gunpoint and quickly learned that the Ford had not been stolen, the CHP said. They sent the driver on his way.

Meanwhile, Petaluma police and CHP officers stopped a gray Dodge 3500 at the Lakeville Highway exit and quickly ruled out that truck as well.

The white Ford was stopped again as it headed south, this time by CHP officers who pulled the truck over at the gas station at Kastania Road south of Petaluma to attempt to sort out why the GPS was telling authorities that the Ford was the stolen vehicle, Hawkins said. Officers contacted the company that owns the trucks and the tracking firm and learned that they had been tracking the wrong vehicle, according to the CHP.

It was unclear whether the stolen vehicle was being tracked or whether it had been found.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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