06/23/2003

Virginia Beach Officer Down, Suspect Killed

Officer Down: Rodney F. Pocceschi - [VA Beach Police Department, Virginia]

The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH -- A city police officer was shot and killed Monday during a shootout after a seemingly routine traffic stop on Dam Neck Road.

It is the first fatal shooting of a Virginia Beach police officer since 1981.

The officer, Rodney F. Pocceschi, 33, was shot during an exchange of gunfire with a robbery suspect. The suspect also was killed.

Pocceschi had stopped the suspect's car around 3:30 a.m. for a traffic violation. He did not know that the suspect was wanted for the robbery of an IHOP restaurant on General Booth Boulevard minutes earlier.

Pocceschi was married and had a 9-month-old son.

THE OFFICER
Rodney F. Pocceschi, killed

THE SUSPECTS
Lekeith Devon Speller, killed
Shawn Anthony Zhe, arrested
Christine Marie Tatem, arrested

``Today is an especially sad day for the city of Virginia Beach,'' said a teary-eyed Police Chief A.M. Jacocks at an afternoon press conference.

Jacocks said an employee at the IHOP let a masked robber into the store through a back door. The robber then pulled a gun and robbed the manager and two employees. No customers were there at the time.

Four minutes later, Pocceschi stopped a Ford Explorer on Dam Neck Road. The driver got out of the car, pulled a gun and started firing, Jacocks said. The officer fired back and both men were shot.

Moments later, a passing teenager saw the police officer lying in the road, tried to help him and flagged down a passing police car that was on its way to the IHOP. ``We are deeply indebted to the bravery of this young 16-year-old,'' Jacocks said.

The suspect, Lekeith Devon Speller, 21, of the 600 block of Governors Way, died at the scene. The officer died later at Virginia Beach General Hospital.

Police arrested a passenger in the Explorer and charged him with participating in the IHOP robbery. He was identified as Shawn Anthony Zhe, 21, of the 900 block of Maximus Square.

Police also arrested an IHOP employee and charged her with participating in the robbery. She was identified as Christine Marie Tatem, 18, of the 3900 block of Silina Drive.

Neither Zhe nor Tatem was charged with the shooting.

The last Virginia Beach officer shot to death on duty was Daniel T. Maloney, who was killed by an escaped Maryland rapist in 1981. The last Beach officer killed in the line of duty was auxiliary officer George Starr in 1991. He was hit by a speeding driver after stopping to help with a traffic incident on Interstate 264.

Funeral arrangements for the slain officer are pending. A memorial fund has been set up with the Virginia Beach Municipal Employees Credit Union.
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