By Steve Mayes
OREGON CITY — For about 90 chaotic minutes Sunday, Oregon City Reserve Officer Robert Libke remained lying where he fell, gravely injured from a gunshot wound to the head.
The initial report of a house fire with an armed man at the scene went out at 1:04 p.m. Sunday. Libke and his training partner, Sean L. Ellis, were the first on the scene, arriving within minutes.
Josh Wenzel, 25, saw Libke walking alone up Eastfield Drive wearing a bullet-proof vest. Wenzel opened his door as Libke stopped in front of his house. He heard him yell twice for a man to drop his weapon, placing his hand near his holster.
The man, 88-year-old Lawrence Cambra, responded by firing at the volunteer officer-in-training, police said, striking Libke above the right eye. Libke fell backward to the ground without ever drawing his weapon, and he remained there, motionless.
Oregon City Sgt. Pat Lynch arrived moments later, assuming command amid danger and confusion. One officer had already been gunned down, the attacker was at large and a house fire was raging. Lynch is an experienced military veteran who served three tours of duty and was stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lynch also teaches emergency medical care.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Rob Wurpes and Oregon City Police spokesman Sgt. Matt Paschall declined to comment on what, if any, medical care was provided for Libke before he was carried to an ambulance roughly and hour and a half after he was shot.
Cambra was still armed and nearby, posing a risk to neighbors and the growing ranks of police who swarmed the area around the burning house at 841 Linn Ave. Firefighters and paramedics were kept at a distance so they would not become targets.
About 20 minutes after Libke was shot, Wenzel said police arrived and evacuated Wenzel's family and other neighbors through their backyards. When Wenzel evacuated, Libke was still there, lying on his back, and Cambra's house was collapsing from the fire.
Video taken by another neighbor shows Libke arriving at the ambulance about an hour later, shortly after members of a SWAT team moved in and fired on Cambra.
Oregon City police and the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office declined to comment on what happened during that interval. They also declined to discuss training protocols or the actions of Ellis, who remains on duty.
A video from KATU Television recorded a time of 2:39 p.m. -- about 90 minutes after Libke was shot -- as emergency workers loaded Libke into an ambulance for transportation to a waiting helicopter ambulance.
On Monday, Libke was taken off life support and died from his injuries.
On Wednesday, Oregon City Police Chief James Band issued a statement that referred to the decisions officers have to make in life-threatening situations:
"During such incidents, officers are required to make split-second decisions that have tremendous implications. Such things have life-changing ramifications for people involved in every aspect of this case. During deadly-force encounters, officers are trained to balance the needs of saving injured people or first responders while ensuring no one else is killed in the process. I believe the responding officers took responsible actions under extremely dangerous circumstances to prevent further loss of life to other first responders and citizens in our community. They have my unwavering gratitude and support. I am confident that the investigation, once complete, will provide the public with the accurate information they need to help them understand what occurred during this chaotic situation."
Police say they do not believe Cambra set the fire intending to lure officers to a trap, and details emerged Tuesday to suggest another motive.
Sometime Sunday before the fire, Cambra assaulted his girlfriend, Joyce Ruby Eileen Smith, 70. At one point, Cambra was strangling Smith and she believed he would kill her, according to two law enforcement sources. Smith, who did not have serious injuries, gave an extensive interview to detectives Sunday night.
Smith, who had lived with Cambra since 2007, obtained a restraining order against Cambra in October 2012 after he threatened get a gun and "get rid of a few people."
Smith is listed in public records as the co-owner of Cambra's house, and arson may have been act of revenge against her.
Also Tuesday, police cleared up seemingly contradictory reports about Cambra's death.
On Monday, a news release from a representative of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office reported that SWAT team members encountered Cambra "and subsequently shot him." On Tuesday, the state medical examiner's office determined that Cambra died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Later in the day, law enforcement explained that members of Clackamas County Sheriff's Office SWAT team shot Cambra just as Cambra committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with the handgun.
More details will become clear in coming days.
Police say there are three components to the ongoing investigation: the fire, the shooting of the police officer and the use of force by members of the SWAT team.
The fire investigation is being conducted by the Oregon State Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Clackamas County Fire District #1 Fire Marshal. The investigation will take 24 to 48 hours, police said Monday.
The investigation into the shootings of Libke and Cambra is being conducted by Clackamas County Major Crimes Team, led by the Clackamas County District Attorney. Investigators will look at all aspects of the events that led to the shootings, police say.
Reporters Molly Harbarger and Michael Bamesberger contributed to this story.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 The Oregonian