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INCIDENT INVOLVING OFFICER STILL MYSTERY

Except for small bits of yellow police tape, no traces remained Tuesday of the scuffle that left a Salina officer injured along an isolated I-70 pullover.

The crime scene, nearly a mile off the well-traveled track of the freeway and adjoining route into Salina, was barren - as much a mystery as the events that left a rookie Salina officer with a bullet-torn Kevlar protective vest and a grazed forehead.James McDonald, who was a Department of Corrections employee for seven years, was placed on paid administrative leave Monday, with his account of the shooting under investigation by the Sevier County sheriff's office.

"He'll continue to draw his pay until we know what's going on," Salina Mayor Grant Stubbs said.

McDonald had radioed dispatch Thursday just after midnight, reporting he'd been shot as he attempted to investigate a suspicious car parked off I-70. He was treated and released the same day from Sevier Valley Hospital in nearby Richfield.

McDonald and his police car were discovered near a surplus gravel deposit more than a half-mile south of the regular freeway off-ramp. A Caterpiller front-end loader remained parked there Tuesday, yellow police tape tied to a nearby bush.

From the isolated pocket, the freeway is easily visible to the east, but the community of Salina, to the north, is blocked from view by the interstate and a hill.

Salina Police Chief Gordon Kiesel said that despite the area's isolation, it attracts occasional traffic and is a common patrol area for the officers. He was unsure if it lies within Salina boundaries.

"I don't know exactly where the line is," Kiesel said. "That's a city loader and that's city stuff up there. We go to the city limits and at times beyond there,"

The state's law enforcement community heaved a collective sigh of relief upon learning that although a central Utah police officer had been shot, his injuries were not life-threatening.

Frustrated by a lack of suspect information, investigators had little to go on: a dark blue car, possibly of '60s or '70s vintage and carrying a blue license plate.

The search for such a vehicle ended Friday when doubts surfaced about the officer's story.

Sevier County Sheriff John Meacham later announced that McDonald's account didn't add up in light of evidence and that the officer had changed his account to one even further off the mark.

"We're just hoping for all the best for him and his family," one Salina officer said. The man said he was devastated first by hearing that his partner was shot and then a second time when he learned McDonald's account of the incident was under scrutiny.

Sevier County Attorney Don Brown said he hopes to review the case by week's end.

"I've been advised of the situation but likely won't see the sheriff's report until Thursday or Friday," he said.