|Officer `serious'; suspect shot dead |
By Iliana Limon
Albuquerque Tribune Reporter
Officers lined up this morning to guard Albuquerque Police Sgt. Carol Oleksak's hospital room, hoping their presence would rally the "critically wounded" veteran officer.
"People are so upset and so angry, they just want to do something, so they are signing up to watch her room 24 hours a day," police union President Jeff Remington said.
It was all they could do. Some officers admit it will take a miracle for Oleksak to survive the attack.
Police spokesman Detective Jeff Arbogast confirmed shortly before noon that Oleksak was in critical condition.
Away from the hospital, investigators pressed ahead to find out more about the man who they say shot Oleksak.
The man, whom police refused to identify, was killed by officers shortly after the sergeant was shot about 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Nob Hill area.
Investigators were told by eyewitnesses that the man wrestled away Oleksak's service weapon and used it to shoot her.
At least 100 shoppers, residents and businesses owners witnessed parts of the five-minute shooting spree.
Francis Padilla's 83-year-old legs trembled while she huddled with her daughter in the Walgreens parking lot, ducking from nearby gunfire.
"We ran toward the store, and I saw her," Padilla said still shaking more than an hour later. "I saw the woman officer's face covered in blood. It was horrible."
The shooting spree critically injured the 49-year-old Albuquerque police veteran.
She was in "very serious condition" and in surgery early this morning, Police Chief Gilbert Gallegos said.
The gunfire sent officers on a foot chase down Central Avenue, where they eventually shot and killed an as-yet unidentified man suspected of wounding Oleksak, Arbogast said.
Homicide investigators did not release the man's name early this morning, because they were still trying to notify his family about the fatal shooting, Arbogast said.
With heavy hearts, more than 50 detectives and officers from the police and Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department carefully analyzed the four-block crime scene and searched for evidence.
"We're all praying she'll pull through and won't suffer any serious, long-term damage," Remington said at the scene.
"Anytime an officer is shot, it's a real blow. But because she was so dedicated and committed to the people she worked with, this is very hard to handle."
Oleksak's mother and sister huddled at University of New Mexico Hospital with Police Department leaders, praying she would recover, Gallegos said.
"They are relying on their faith and their religion to comfort them in this difficult time," Gallegos said at the hospital shortly before midnight, appearing worn by the emotional evening. "We're all pulling for her. She's always been a tough officer, but this is by far her biggest test."
Events began when Oleksak fielded a routine call shortly before 7:30 p.m. about a suspicious, threatening man in the Walgreens parking lot on Central Avenue and Girard Boulevard Southeast, Arbogast said.
Witnesses, including Padilla and her daughter, heard shouting shortly after Oleksak's cruiser pulled into the parking lot adjacent to Mannie's Family Restaurant.
"The yelling wasn't that big a deal, but then I heard at least six bullets that sounded quick and loud," Padilla said.
Arbogast could not confirm how many times Oleksak was hit, but did say at least one bullet struck her in the head or face.
He also could not confirm whether Oleksak was wounded with her own gun.
Padilla, along with neighboring business owners, watched the suspect shout at Oleksak while she lay on the ground wounded next to her police cruiser.
"Then he grabbed his backpack off the ground and did the strangest thing," business owner Louie Torres said. "He walked casually down the street. He didn't run; he walked. It was like he didn't even care."
Torres, the 41-year-old owner of Louie's Rock-N-Reels on Central Avenue Northeast near Richmond Drive, didn't think the man walking away from the scene was a suspect until officers began running after him.
"He was about a block away from the scene walking east on Central when I heard him shout, `That'll teach you, bitch,'" Torres said. "Then he pointed the gun over his left shoulder and fired a shot without even looking back."
Angered by what he saw, Torres ran back into his store and grabbed the only weapon he thought might distract the suspect until police could catch up with him: three videotapes.
"They were the heaviest thing I could find that I thought would slow him down, so I threw them across the street," Torres said. "It was stupid because he could have shot me, but I was so mad that he did this. I've worked here for eight years, and no one has ever attacked my community like this. It just wasn't right."
None of the videotapes hit the suspect, but one landed right in front of him. They did little to slow the gun-wielding man, who, Torres said, continued walking defiantly down the street.
The suspect, whom witnesses described as a relatively clean-cut man in his mid-20s, continued east on Central Avenue and crossed Richmond Drive.
Torres said the man then fired two more shots blindly over his shoulder.
Mikyta Daugherty, a 26-year-old UNM psychology instructor, didn't notice the suspect walk past the window she was sitting by inside the Korean Barbecue Restaurant near Wellesley Drive.
But she couldn't miss the three officers trailing him.
"One of them had this huge shotgun," she said, hours later while waiting to get her car out from behind crime scene tape. "And we watched him fire at least three shots at the guy."
Daugherty said the officer appeared to be very upset after fatally wounding the suspect.
The suspect fell face down on the street in front of Kelly's Brew Pub, which had a patio filled with customers-turned-witnesses at the corner of Central Avenue and Wellesley Drive Southeast.
"It was crazy," Daugherty said. "I never thought in a million years something would happen like this, someone would get gunned down in the middle of the street."
In an operating room about five blocks away, doctors worked on the wounded police sergeant, hoping to keep the night's events from becoming a double homicide.
UNM Hospital declined to release further information on Oleksak's condition this morning.