HOUSTON (AP) — A traffic stop turned into a fatal shooting on Christmas Eve when a gunman killed a police officer and bystander in the parking lot of a Houston body shop, police said.
The confrontation followed a chase that began shortly before 9 a.m. Monday when the suspect sped off in his car rather than pull over as an officer had requested, Houston police spokesman John Cannon said. As the suspect fled, he sideswiped a white truck, which also took off after him, he said.
The suspect and the white truck eventually pulled into a nearby Maaco body shop, where an officer with the Bellaire Police Department approached the vehicle, Cannon added. Apparently, he said, an argument of sorts erupted, and the suspect pulled out a .380 caliber handgun and shot the officer.
"The saddest thing is that the officer, who is deceased, didn't have the opportunity to pull his weapon and defend himself," Cannon said. "It happened that fast."
A man then walked out of the body shop, and the suspect shot him, Cannon said.
Other officers arrived at the scene, where they found the officer lying on the ground and the suspect next to him, holding a gun, he said.
"They are immediately fired upon, and those two officers then returned fire," Cannon said.
The suspect was shot but fled on foot, Cannon said. He hid under a parked truck, but officers followed a trail of blood and arrested him.
"This suspect murdered a police officer and murdered an innocent bystander," Cannon said.
Police have not released the identities of the officer, the bystander or the suspect.
Hours later, the parking lot of the body shop remained cordoned off with yellow police tape. Officers milled around, collecting evidence and discussing the incident. The owners of a nearby auto parts store closed up early for Christmas, although other stores in the strip mall remained open as people rushed in for last-minute holiday errands.
Stephanie Pacheco, who works at the auto parts store, said she saw the officer get out of his patrol car in the parking lot next door and approach the driver. The officer opened the suspect's car door and tried to pull him out, she told the Houston Chronicle.
That's when the suspect opened fire, she said. The officer fell down, and the suspect continued firing shots in other directions, Pacheco said.
"This is senseless, ridiculous and needs to stop," Pacheco said. "I'm tired of seeing people die. It's a sad thing."
The suspect shot the bystander at close range, and he died at the scene, Cannon said. It wasn't clear why the man stepped outside the body shop or whether he was an employee or a customer, he added. The officer was rushed to a Houston hospital where he died.
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland visited with the dead police officer's family at the hospital. Although the officer was not a member of McClelland's department, the chief said all law enforcement officers share a bond.
"This should be a joyous time," McClelland said. "Christmas will have a different meaning for this family."
The suspect remains in a Houston hospital where he is in critical but stable condition. Cannon said he is expected to survive.
Houston and Bellaire police and the Harris County District Attorney's office are investigating. Cannon said the suspect likely would face a multitude of charges, including capital murder of a police officer.