01/10/2007

Shots fired during N.M. chase; wounded officer may have been hit by friendly fire

By Kate Willson, Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Journal

At least 19 shots were fired during a rush-hour chase last week that sent a Santa Fe police officer and a suspected car thief to the hospital after they were hit by gunfire.

And at this point, state police Lt. Juan Jose Martinez said in a news release, "there is no indication" that suspect Ivan Atencio "was armed with a firearm or ever fired" at Santa Fe officers.

Police Sgt. Kyle Zuments - who was hit by a bullet that failed to penetrate his bulletproof vest - was probably struck by a fellow officer's bullet, Martinez said.

Zuments "was most likely shot as a result of friendly fire, either by a ricochet or by a cross fire situation," he said. "The exact circumstances and cause of this portion of the incident are still under investiga- tion."

Martinez said that 19 spent shell casings have been recovered in the investigation.

Just after the shooting, state police said Atencio fired on officers after they responded to a report of a stolen car in the parking lot of the T.J. Maxx store on Zafarano Drive about 5 p.m. Wednesday. Atencio allegedly tried to run down Zuments as he drove away, then led officers on a short chase to the intersection of Yucca and Zia.

The chase ended in gunfire after officers blocked in Atencio, and it was originally believed that Atencio shot Zuments.

But the state police - investigating the case because city officers were involved - have never found any weapon that Atencio may have used.

Atencio, 31, suffered bullet wounds to his hand and shoulder. He was released from the hospital Friday and is in jail awaiting arraignment on charges of auto theft, aggravated battery and aggravated fleeing from an officer.

The battery charges stem from Atencio allegedly using the stolen car as a weapon. In addition to trying to run down Zuments, police say he struck at least two cars during the chase.

In his statement Monday, Martinez said that, while it does not appear that Atencio fired a gun, "there is information to believe that he did in fact assault the police officer and several citizens with the stolen vehicle which he used as a weapon."

Martinez said state police are sending the 19 recovered bullet casings to the state crime lab for testing. Forensic experts can compare the fired casings with the guns collects from officers to identify who shot how many bullets and if any of the bullets were fired by someone other than an officer.

The chase began with a phone call to police just before 5 p.m. Wednesday. A woman in the T.J. Maxx parking lot spotted her car, which had recently been stolen. Zuments was trying to verify that the car was stolen when Atencio came out of the store, climbed in the stolen car and tried to run the vehicle into Zuments, who fired a shot.

A car chase ensued on Rodeo and Zia roads and ended at Zia and Yucca, where traffic was stopped for a red light. Atencio allegedly attempted to ram into a vehicle stopped in front of him in an attempt to flee. Four officers, including Zuments, opened fire on Atencio, hitting him twice. Zuments was also struck during the melee.

The four officers are on leave pending the investigation.

Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal

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