Last Updated Oct 17, 2018 12:47 PM EDT
WHITEVILLE, N.C. -- A driver opened fire on a North Carolina state trooper during a traffic stop early Wednesday, killing the 11-year Highway Patrol veteran, authorities said. The suspect was arrested after a chase. Around 12:15 a.m., the trooper stopped the white pickup truck on suspicion of speeding on a highway in rural Columbus County southwest of Whiteville, said Highway Patrol First Sgt. Michael Baker.
Baker said the driver shot Trooper Kevin Conner as he approached. "The driver of that vehicle fired several shots, striking the trooper," Baker told reporters.
The suspect fled and Conner was taken to a hospital, where he died.
Baker said the driver then headed about 20 miles west to Fair Bluff near the South Carolina state line, where authorities pursued him in a chase. The truck became disabled on railroad tracks in the town, and the suspect fled on foot. Authorities said the suspect was arrested around 4 a.m. after an extensive search.
Baker said the man, whose name wasn't immediately released, was being held in the Columbus County jail pending charges.
The Highway Patrol said the Columbus County-based trooper was an 11-year veteran of the organization. Patrol commander Col. Glenn McNeill said the organization was "mourning the loss of a hero" as condolences poured in from law enforcement agencies on social media.
"Many will say he was the nicest guy you would ever meet and the ones that knew Kevin and family would agree," the nearby Bladen County Sheriff's Office said on Facebook.
WRAL-TV reported that Conner helped save lives after a 2011 fiery head-on crash in Columbus County. A WRAL article from that year said Conner used an extinguisher to put out flames, and he and another trooper provided first aid before paramedics arrived.
CBS affiliate WNCN-TV reports that Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement regarding Conner's death:
"The tragic loss of Trooper Kevin Conner of the N.C. State Highway Patrol weighs heavily on our hearts. We are forever grateful for his devoted service and selfless commitment to protecting the people of North Carolina. Our prayers are with his family and friends and his colleagues in law enforcement."