With Three Tires, Then Three Wheels, Driver Evades Police

A rosewood smuggler drove 7 km after police shot out his front tire while chasing him through Stung Treng province over the weekend, finally fleeing into the forest when the wheel fell off, officials said.

The smuggler’s silver Toyota Highlander was loaded with rosewood when it sped past a team of police and Forestry Administration officials manning a weapons checkpoint on National Road 78 in Thala Barivat district late Saturday night, according to provincial police chief Mao Dara.

Police piled into a pickup truck and gave chase, but the smuggler kept driving, even after one of the officers shot out his front right tire, he said. The suspect abandoned the vehicle on the side of the road in Sesan district only after the wheel came off.

“Police arrived at the scene im­mediately and saw the rosewood inside the car,” Brigadier General Dara said on Monday.

But it was too late to catch the driver, who ran into the forest and disappeared, he said, adding that the car was impounded at the pro­vincial police headquarters and the wood handed over to the Forestry Administration.

Ly Kurn, chief of the administration’s Stung Treng division, said the Highlander’s seats had been re­moved to accommodate the tim­ber: 21 thick planks of rosewood—the rare and protected species can fetch thousands of dollars per cubic meter—and three pieces of luxury-grade Neang Nuon.

“Now we are working with the provincial police to search for the people involved with the rosewood, and for the owner of the Toyota Highlander,” he said on Monday.

The failed chase occurred just days after military police in neighboring Mondolkiri province were stymied while tailing another suspected timber smuggler in a Toyo­ta sedan. In that case, the driver of a Lexus SUV sped ahead of the pur­suing officers and began swerving wildly, blocking their path.

The Lexus driver, Seng Sophon, was pulled over and arrested, but released by the provincial court the next day after claiming that a friend had been driving his car at the time.

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