HOUSTON - 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, identified by Cannon as Harlem Harold Lewis, 21, and the white truck eventually pulled into a nearby Maaco body shop, where Bellaire police Cpl. Jimmie Norman approached the vehicle. Cannon said an argument apparently erupted, and the suspect pulled out a .380 calibre handgun and shot Norman.
"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."
He said a man then walked out of the body shop, and the suspect shot him.
Other officers arrived at the scene and found Norman lying on the ground and the suspect next to him, holding a gun, Cannon said.
"They are immediately fired upon, and those two officers then returned fire," he 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.
He said Lewis was expected to be charged later Monday with capital murder of a police officer and murder for the death of the bystander.
Norman, 53, worked for the Bellaire Police Department for 23 years and was the first of its officers to be shot in the line of duty, Bellaire police spokesman Robert Beran said.
"We're devastated by his loss. We're devastated by what this has done to his family," Bellaire Police Chief Byron Holloway told reporters at a news conference.
The identity of the bystander has not yet been released.
The parking lot of the body shop remained cordoned off with yellow police tape hours after the shootings. 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 bystander was shot at close range and 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. Norman was rushed to a hospital and died there.
The suspect was in critical but stable condition at a Houston hospital. Cannon said he is expected to survive.
Houston and Bellaire police and the Harris County District Attorney's office are investigating.
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