By Laura N. Perez Sanchez
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A 23-year-old prisoner being taken to jail to face car theft charges allegedly shot one police officer to death and gravely wounded a second, then escaped in their squad car, authorities said Sunday.
Dozens of police and FBI agents mounted a manhunt across Puerto Rico for the suspect, Ricardo Lebron Berrios, who allegedly opened fire while he was being driven to a Bayamon jail late Saturday.
A Justice Department statement said Officer Jorge Sanchez Santiago was killed and Lt. Benjamin Santiago Fragoso was in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds.
Early Sunday, police issued a brief, confused statement indicating an unknown gunman had ambushed the squad car along the highway as the two officers drove a prisoner from the eastern city of Humacao to a lockup outside San Juan.
But Justice Secretary Antonio Sagardia later told reporters a further review showed "there were no other people involved nor vehicles, eliminating the theory that the incident was an ambush."
Authorities would not say if they believed Lebron managed to wrestle a gun away from one of the officers. Sagardia only said that forensic tests indicated 9-mm bullet casings at the shooting scene matched the officers' service weapons.
After the shooting, the gunman apparently fled in the police car, leaving the officers lying on the roadside. The car was found abandoned early Sunday in the east coast town of Juncos.
Police said they planned to offer a reward for information leading to Lebron's capture. They did not specify an amount.
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The killing boosted the number of homicides so far this year to 544 in the U.S. Caribbean territory, 28 more than during the same period of 2008.