08/10/2007

Fla. officer fatally shot checking suspicious license plate; 2nd fatal shooting in 5 days

Second Broward County off shot in 5 days.
Officer Down: Sergeant Christopher Reyka

By Sallie James, Andrew Tran, Dianna Cahn, Melissa Hoyos and Joel Marino | Sun-Sentinel.com
The Sun-Sentinel

POMPANO BEACH - The Broward Sheriff's Office offered a $70,000 reward for the gunman who shot and killed a deputy early Friday in Pompano Beach, the second shooting of a Broward deputy this week.

The deputy was identified as Sgt. Chris Reyka, 51, of Wellington. Early reports said that he had been shot in the head.

"BSO is not going to tolerate thugs in this community who think or feel they can assassinate our people," Sheriff Ken Jenne said during a Friday afternoon news conference announcing the reward.

The shooting happened near a 24-hour Walgreen drug store at 960 S. Pompano Parkway as Reyka was running tags looking for stolen vehicles about 1 a.m., said Sheriff's Office spokesman Mike Jachles.

Reyka pulled his cruiser next to two cars in the parking lot to investigate. As he got out of his vehicle, someone got out of one of the cars and immediately opened fire, Jachles said. The shooter got back into the vehicle and headed north toward Atlantic Boulevard.

The Sheriff's Office set up a large command post in the area as deputies searched for the killer. Just after the shooting, police concentrated their search along Interstate 95 and in the neighborhood surrounding the scene.

During the morning rush hour, BSO patrol cars were on every entrance ramp along I-95 with lights flashing as they searched for the suspect's car. Helicopters, deputies, police officers and canine patrols were mobilized from Palm Beach County south into Broward.

"There is a massive manhunt for this cop killer," Jachles said.

Authorities were looking for a white, full-sized American-made passenger vehicle with tinted windows and stolen Florida tag F16 8UJ, Jachles said. The car, which has two unknown occupants, was believed to have been manufactured within the last 10 years and was not new, he said. The suspects were considered armed and dangerous.

Reyka, the father of four children, joined the Pompano Beach police department in 1989 before it merged into the Sheriff's Office 10 years later.

Delores Barbare, a cashier at the nearby Bagel Snack Restaurant and Deli, said that Reyka used to come into her shop on occasion.

"It's absolutely terrible," she said. "That cop used to come in here. It's scary. It really is."

Friday's shooting came just days after another deputy, Maury Hernandez, was shot in the head and injured Monday after a traffic stop. David Maldonado has been charged in that shooting.

Hernandez was still in critical condition at Memorial Regional Hospital Friday, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Hugh Graf.

Reyka was taken to North Broward Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Sheriff Ken Jenne visited the hospital early Friday and said this week has been a very challenging one for his agency. Numerous deputies were at the hospital, where grief counselors were available to help.

Deputy Pepper Shaw, who has been on the force 30 years, was Reyka's training officer when he worked at the Pompano Beach police department. She said he quickly stood out among his fellow officers. Despite making detective and then being promoted to supervisor, Reyka always preferred patrolling in his car, she said.

"He had good instincts on the street. He was an excellent officer, very cautious," Shaw said.

Shaw described her fellow deputies as "devastated" by the shootings this week.

"It's hard to comprehend," she said. "Two officers shot in a week. It's really taking a toll on us."

Reyka had been named employee of the month in April for the Sheriff's Office district covering Pompano Beach. He won the award for finding a car stolen from Lighthouse Point and for spotting a suspicious vehicle whose occupants had just committed a burglary and grand theft, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Elliot Cohen.

He was running tags on cars he thought were suspicious," Cohen said. "Today, it got him killed."

Reyka, a former Marine, had a wife, Kim; a 21-year-old daughter at college; a son, 20, who is in the Marines; a daughter, 15; and a son, 13.

Jenne said Sean, the son in the Marines, is due to ship out in a couple of weeks to Iraq.

"Any kid would've been proud to have him as a dad. He was just so phenomenal," said Elizabeth Krupa, who moved into the neighborhood in 1998, about the same time as the Reykas.

Sharon Fritz of Loxahatchee, whose sister is married to Ryka's brother, described the deputy as easy-going and friendly to everybody.

"Unfortunately, he died doing what he loved best," Fritz said.

Van Roberts, 40, who lives in a condominium across the street from Walgreens, said he was on his couch watching television Friday morning when he heard several shots.

"I hear all these gunshots, it wasn't just one," said Roberts, a commercial real estate appraiser. "It was mulitple, it was just constant. With the number of gunsots I heard, it was almost like a gunfight."

Dozens of highways, roads and ramps were shut down for a while as authorities searched for the gunman. The Florida Highway Patrol said traffic was moving normally on the I-95 and other roads by late morning.

Graf said he didn't know the exact number of agencies helping with the manhunt, but he said the effort was wide-reaching.

"We're getting assistance and help from all areas of law enforcement. Every available deputy, detective and sworn officer is out there giving us a hand," Graf said.

Jenne said the FBI contributed $50,000 to the reward, with another $15,000 coming from Broward Crime Stoppers and the remaining $5,000 from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He said the recent shootings of deputies had left the department "shaken."

"This agency is like a family. When you lose one, it's like losing a relative, a friend, a brother," Jenne said.

The stolen tag was registered to Terry's Plumbing in Oakland Park. A secretary who answered the phone at the business said they had just found out about the theft and had no comment.

The mayor of Pompano Beach expressed shock and dismay at the slaying of a law enforcement officer he knew personally.

"I'm just so devastated right now," Lamar Fisher said by telephone from Tennessee, where he was on vacation. "He was just doing his duty, and being ambushed and all...It's just a travesty."

Berthe Blanchard, 78, who lives near the shooting scene, said she heard a a lot of noise Friday morning, but didn't know what had happened until her daughter called.

"I feel like I am dead inside," Blanchard said. "I am a mother. It's like I was losing a son. I have eight kids."

Copyrignt 2007 The Sun Sentinel

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