Image: Cody N. Willcoxson
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
Cody N. Willcoxson was captured Thursday after a suspect tried to enter a Missouri Army base and fired at pursuing police.
NBC News and news services
updated 5/12/2011 8:48:23 PM ET 2011-05-13T00:48:23

A convicted felon was arrested Thursday after a four-hour police chase that began when officials said he tried to break into a Missouri Army post, then fired on officers who pursued him before crashing a vehicle at a nearby university.

Rolla Police Chief Mark Kearse said a state Highway Patrol trooper arrested Cody N. Willcoxson, of Southwest City, hours after the 31-year-old tried sneaking into nearby Fort Leonard Wood using a suspicious-looking ID. His motives for attempting to enter the military installation were not immediately clear.

Willcoxson was bleeding and may have been shot in the arm or hand, but otherwise no one was hurt, Kearse said. Police also found crystal methamphetamine in Willcoxson's car, according to Kearse.

Instead of leaving Fort Leonard Wood when ordered Thursday morning, officials said Willcoxson accelerated rapidly and drove his a silver Dodge Magnum through a security gate, leading military police on a chase until he drove out another gate where local law enforcement took up the pursuit.

St. Robert Police Chief Curtis Curenton said the officers had been on Interstate 44 for only a couple miles when the driver began firing shots from what appeared to be an AK-47. Curenton said he followed the gunman about 32 miles to Rolla when his driver's-side mirror was hit with one round and his engine compartment was hit by another.

"We could see him firing through the driver's-side window and through the sunroof," Curenton said.

Curenton said the officers didn't return fire during the chase, which reached speeds of 120 mph.

Kearse said Willcoxson fired dozens of shots at officers from several departments — including Kearse himself and the Phelps County sheriff — reloading the assault rifle as he drove.

"He stuck his AK out and probably shot at least 15 to 25 rounds at cars behind us," Kearse said. "I can't believe nobody was hit with the way he was shooting out the windows."

Officers put "stop sticks" on the road and punctured a tire before Willcoxson reached Rolla. Police said he was soon forced to ditch the vehicle just before 9 a.m. near the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where spring semester classes had ended last week. He reportedly entered McNutt Hall, which houses the school's Department of Mining and Nuclear Engineering.

Campus police issued an alert telling those on campus to remain indoors and everyone else to stay away. The suspect left campus without firing a shot, campus police said. The campus remained locked down until nearly 2 p.m., almost an hour after Willcoxson was arrested.

Willcoxson is accused of breaking into a nearby home and driving away in the homeowner's Ford Taurus after demanding the keys. He was caught on a county road south of Rolla and did not resist arrest, authorities said.

Much of Rolla was shut down while the manhunt unfolded, including the main highway into town as well as local public schools. The pursuit passed Rolla High School, Kearse said.

"There were citizens all over," he said. "He drove in front of the high school and stared at me. There were students behind me, so I didn't fire."

Kearse said Willcoxson provided an address in Pulaski County, near the military base.

He was charged in Pulaski County with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and armed criminal action and ordered held on $1 million cash bond. No lawyer was listed in online court records.

More charges are expected.

Willcoxson was released from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in 2008 after serving about 3½ years for burglary, escaping from jail, and other felonies.

He was among nine inmates who attacked a jailer and fled on foot from the Delaware County Jail in Oklahoma a decade ago. He had escaped at least one other time previously, and authorities suspected him of masterminding the jail break.

During the escape, a prisoner attacked the jailer, stole his keys, kicked in the door to the sheriff's office and stole a .22-caliber rifle before all nine slipped out the side door of the courthouse, the Tulsa World reported at the time. Willcoxson remained at large for nearly three years before he was arrested in Texas in 2003.

Jay Police Chief Mike Shambaugh still remembers chasing Willcoxson through the woods and failing to catch him after one of the escapes.

"His name is synonymous around here with that," Shambaugh said. "It seemed like he was always getting out."

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Police capture Mo. Army base crasher

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