Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Sheriff's officials were guardedly optimistic today that two veterans of their department will make full recoveries from serious wounds they suffered in a nearly 15-minute gunbattle with an alleged pedophile at an East County apartment complex.
Sgt. Craig Johnson and Detective Ali Perez came under fire from a high-powered rifle shortly after arriving at a rental residence in the 12700 block of Mapleview Street in Lakeside to investigate a child-abuse allegation about 12:15 p.m. Tuesday.
The lawmen went to the apartment after a woman who lives there reported that her roommate-boyfriend, 30-year-old Daniel Robert Witczak, had allegedly molested one of her two young daughters.
Witczak allegedly began shooting almost immediately after Johnson and Perez arrived. More deputies and police officers rushed to the scene and found themselves in a shootout that last nearly a quarter of an hour, according to sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser.
The fusillade ended when Witczak surrendered, wounded, Fraser said.
Medics took Johnson and Perez to Sharp Memorial Hospital in Linda Vista, and transported Witczak to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest. All three underwent emergency surgery.
Perez, an 18-year deputy currently serving in the sheriff's child-abuse unit, remained in critical condition late this morning. The status of Johnson, a 23-year department member assigned to the Santee Sheriff's Station, was listed as serious. Each suffered gunshot wounds to the torso.
"There is cause for great concern, but we are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that both deputies will make a full recovery,'' Sheriff Bill Gore said.
Witczak also survived the shooting, but the extent of his injuries has not been disclosed.
According to the suspect's girlfriend, whose name has not been released, the events that led to the gunfire began about 7:30 a.m., when she found cell-phone photos and videos of Witczak, an out-of-work auto mechanic, allegedly engaging in sex acts with her 6-year-old daughter.
"It's graphic pictures of him doing stuff with his body parts and her body parts,'' the mother told News 8.
She said she left their apartment to call the Sheriff's Department.
Later in the morning, during a call being monitored by investigators, the suspect allegedly admitted to the crimes, claiming he had received an offer of $50,000 to post the pornographic images online.
The woman said she was still on the phone with Witczak when the detective and sergeant arrived at the couple's apartment and, a short time later, shots rang out. She said Witczak then got back on the line and told her he had shot himself, and she heard someone say, "Officers down.''
A San Diego police SWAT officer who happened to by driving by when the gunfire erupted rushed to the scene of the shootout and "was instrumental'' in saving Johnson and Perez from the prospect of further injury, according to a Sheriff's Department statement.
The officer, whose name has not been released, helped formulate a plan to pull the wounded deputies out of the line of fire, took part in their rescue and then rendered first-aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, officials said.
During a briefing on the case late this morning, sheriff's Cmdr. Tim Curran said the wounded lawmen were wearing bulletproof vests, as is standard department procedure.
"I can tell you, we're very happy they had them on yesterday,'' he said.
Investigators do not believe the suspect's claim that he shot himself, according to Curran.
'At this point ... in the investigation, none of our information is indicating that those wounds were self-inflicted,'' Curran said.