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A veteran state Department of Public Safety officer was gunned down Tuesday afternoon while patrolling a stretch of Arizona highway that he had worked for at least two decades. The gunman was not caught.

Officer Bob Martin, 57, a 27-year DPS veteran, was shot at least once around 12:30, said Sgt. Dave Myers, a DPS spokesman. Radio traffic indicated that Martin had been shot in the chest and that his Sig-Sauer P226 9mm semiautomatic service pistol was missing.Martin was last seen alive about 15 minutes before a group of passing motorists spotted his body, face-up in the middle of the highway's southbound lane and about a car's length in front of his patrol vehicle.

One of those motorists used the police radio inside Martin's car to call for help at 12:36.

The last person to see Martin before the shooting was a fellow DPS officer, who was driving north on Arizona 87, the "Beeline Highway," and watched Martin turn off to help a stranded motorist.

Martin was killed about three miles south of Saguaro Lake and seven miles north of Shea Boulevard. The area is about a mile south of where Martin had stopped for the stranded motorist.

Sgt. John Kleinheinz, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Sher-iff's Office, said Martin apparently had stopped someone, walked over to the person's car and was shot.

But, he added, "there was no radio contact at all with Officer Martin and DPS" before the shooting.

Myers said that's "not uncommon at all due to the remoteness of the areas they patrol."

"There may not be a backup within miles and miles," he said. "Our officers make hundreds of violator stops a day, and if they called in every single one, our operators would be overwhelmed."

Backup is routinely requested when there is a known or apparent danger.

"I'm confident that there was a total element of surprise that killed Bob Martin," Myers said.

The motorists who found him told police that Martin had a faint pulse when they drove up, but he was dead when help arrived.

"DPS officers depend on the motoring public to help them," DPS Director Joe Albo said. "We're sorry that the officer's life couldn't be saved, but we're grateful that they stopped to help him."

Police were looking for a 1979 to 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that was seen in the area around the time Martin was shot. The car is described as blue with a white top. Police did not release the car's license-plate number or information on the driver.

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft shattered the desert silence as they scoured the area for clues. sheriff's posse members combed the area on foot, looking for Martin's weapon. The McDowell Moun-tains rose up to the south, and saguaros, creosote bushes and high desert grass painted a deceptively tranquil scene.

Roadblocks were set up along Arizona 87 at Shea Boulevard, McDowell Road and Bush Highway, and in Payson and Page, to try to locate any information or people involved, Kleinheinz said.

Several vehicles were stopped, but none yielded any clues.

"We're going to put all available resources to work to solve this crime," Kleinheinz quoted Sheriff Joe Arpaio as saying. "We'll use the posse and everything we have."

Martin is the 23rd DPS officer killed in the line of duty, eight of whom were shot, since 1958 and the second to die this summer.