The Associated Press
EGG HARBOR TWP- A motorist bolted from his car during a roadside traffic stop, seized a police officer’s pistol and shot two officers, authorities said, triggering an all-night manhunt that ended early Thursday when a police dog captured the suspect.
One officer was hospitalized in critical condition, the other in stable condition. Both were expected to recover, according to Police Chief John Coyle.
The suspect, Christopher Blank, 27, of Egg Harbor Township, was charged with three counts of attempted murder after being apprehended about 5:30 a.m., hiding under a blanket on a ballfield, Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz said.
According to Blitz, the incident began just after midnight Wednesday when Officer Christopher Leary pulled over a 1999 Toyota that had cut him off about a half-mile earlier. Inside were Blank and girlfriend Destiny Baker.
Blank got out of the car, struggled with Leary and fled across Route 322 and another street before being caught by Leary and Officer Clear Constantino, who had arrived to provide backup.
In the ensuing struggle, Blank wrested control of Constantino’s .40-caliber Glock from her and allegedly shot her once in the abdomen and twice in the right leg. Leary was shot once in the chest.
Both were wearing bulletproof vests, but Constantino’s wound was in the lower abdomen, inches below the bottom of the vest. She underwent surgery at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center and was in critical condition.
Leary, 34, a three-year veteran, was hospitalized in stable condition.
Blank fled from the shooting scene as about 150 lawmen fanned out through the neighborhood and state police helicopter provided overhead backup.
He was spotted by Officer William Loder just off Coolidge Avenue and traded gunfire with him, each firing one shot, Blitz said. Blank was hit in the left bicep while Loder was unhurt.
The manhunt continued in a wooded area just west of Atlantic City, near the intersection of the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway. Blank managed to avoid capture for hours.
"We don’t know where he was hiding,’’ said Coyle. "It’s a pretty large area. It’s a wooded area, with a little gravel pit there, surrounded by trees.’’
Finally, two officers came upon him on a ballfield, where he was found unarmed, covered with a blanket. He refused to surrender and was taken into custody by an Atlantic City Police Department police dog, who bit him twice.
"They approached him, he resisted, he refused to show hands, would not surrender. At that point, the canine apprehended him,’’ said Coyle.
Constantino’s weapon was found in woods along Coolidge Avenue, where Blank and Loder had traded shots.
Baker, who stayed in the car when Blank fled, was taken into custody but wasn’t charged.
Blitz wouldn’t describe how Blank was able to get the weapon from Constantino, 27, a 21/2-year police veteran, or whether there was contraband in the vehicle that would have motivated Blank to flee during the stop.
Both injured officers still have to be formally interviewed about the sequence of events, Blitz said.
"They are both very young officers, but they have outstanding records with the Police Department,’’ said Coyle.
It was the first time in the history of the 96-member Egg Harbor Township Police Department that an officer was shot, Coyle said.
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Blank, who was being treated for the gunshot wound at a hospital, was being held on $500,000 bail. His first appearance in court will be today if he is released from the hospital by then.