39-year sentence for gunman who
wounded officer and two others

(LANCASTER, Pa.) -- The man responsible for a shootout in downtown Lancaster last February, wounding a policeman and injuring two others, was sentenced to 39 to 78 years in prison.

"This was not some macho Rambo movie," Judge David Ashworth told Angel Santos Irizarry today. "These were real people with real lives."

The victims, Ashworth said, including city police Officer Gary Mackley and everyone who had to dive for cover during the noontime episode at King and Duke streets, "never should have had to endure such trauma."

"You have proven yourself to be a clear and present danger not just to this community but to all of society," Ashworth told Irizarry.

Irizarry, 20, no permanent address, acknowledged his behavior was wrong and apologized to all those involved.

But, in a trembling voice, Irizarry went on to ask the judge to impose a sentence that would offer him a second chance at life outside of prison.

"I know the chaos I caused and the things I did was wrong," Irizarry said, "but I'd like a second chance to see the streets and benefit people."

Mackley, accompanied by dozens of fellow city police officers this morning, stepped forward to speak to the judge, ready with a rebuttal for Irizarry's request.

Among the many letters he received after he was shot in the leg, Mackley said, was one from a Lehigh County couple who had served as foster parents for the 14-year-old Irizarry after he was arrested for aggravated assault.

They gave him a loving home and college education, Mackley said the couple told him; in short, a second chance.

But Irizarry turned his back on them and returned to a life of crime.

"Why give him another chance?" Mackley asked the judge. "If there was ever a chance at deterrence, this is it."

The bizarre episode quickly unfolded around noon on Feb. 16, just minutes after Irizarry and three friends attempted to rob a store in the 100 block of East King Street.

City police, planning to arrest the group for an earlier robbery and shooting in Lebanon County, quickly took Irizarry's three companions into custody.

But Irizarry ran, firing an assault rifle repeatedly at Mackley, then running down the 100 block of East King Street through the lunchtime crowd, forcing pedestrians to run for cover.

As he turned north on Duke Street, across from the county courthouse, Irizarry fired again at Deputy Sheriff James Neimer, barely missing him.

Neimer couldn't return fire because of the numerous pedestrians in the area, but joined other officers as they followed Irizarry into an alley on Grant Street, where the suspect finally surrendered.

Neimer, a retired city police captain, also spoke in court today before the sentence was imposed.

"Life is a series of choices, Mr. Irizarry," Neimer said, "and you chose to commit a series of crimes."

Turning to Ashworth, Neimer said Irizarry's actions are just part of an "ever-increasing trend of violence on law enforcement officers," and asked him to impose the maximum penalty possible as a deterrent.

(iSyndicate; Lancaster New Era; Nov. 6, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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