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Shots fired as N.J. suspect injures officer and flees scene

By The Associated Press

PASSAIC, N.J. — Police officers fired about 20 shots at an unarmed driver as she tried to flee, striking her six times, authorities said Thursday, and investigators quickly pronounced the shooting justified.

Michelle M. Moleti, 34, was in guarded condition Thursday at a hospital in Paterson, Passaic County Prosecutor James Avigliano said. WABC-TV in New York reported that Moleti was hit in the chest, neck and arm.

Police were responding to a report of a suspicious car parked Wednesday night in Clifton, a town in northeastern New Jersey, Avigliano said.

They found Moleti in the car and tried to open the locked door, but Moleti drove away, authorities said.

Police pursued her at normal speeds, stopped her car in nearby Passaic and again tried to open the door. Moleti once more stepped on the gas, injuring the hand of an officer, police said. Police then opened fire on the car, hitting Moleti six times, authorities said.

Avigliano said three or four officers were on the scene but said it was not clear how many fired their weapons. Roughly 20 shots were fired, he said.

''Based on what we know at this time, the shooting appears to be justified,'' Avigliano said.

The officers who fired the shots were from Clifton, according to Clifton Detective Capt. Robert Rowan, who confirmed Avigliano's estimate of the number of shots fired.

Rowan said two officers were struck by the woman's car and fired their weapons to protect themselves.

The officers were treated at a hospital, one for the hand injury and one for a leg injury, and released. The extent of their injuries and how they were injured was not immediately clear.

Avigliano said charges will be filed against Moleti, including aggravated assault on a police officer and eluding police.

A message left at a phone listing for Moleti was not returned Thursday.

''I'm just as baffled as everybody else right now that this happened, and I haven't gotten any answers from the police yet,'' the woman's mother, Rose Moleti, told WABC.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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