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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Suspect in theft of SUV shot

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A 23-year-old man was shot three times by Honolulu police who blocked a stolen vehicle at the KFC in Waikele Center.

Photos by GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The windshield and door of the sport utility vehicle show bullet holes after yesterday’s shooting. The Dodge Durango was reported stolen Monday from a home in Pearl City.

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WAIKELE — The drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant became the scene of a shooting yesterday when police fired upon a car theft suspect who tried to bash his way free.

Officers shot and critically wounded Jeremiah Lopez, 23. Two police officers were injured, including one who was knocked down by the stolen SUV, police said.

The incident happened at midday at the KFC restaurant at Waikele Center, amid lunchtime traffic.

"It's a good thing nobody (else) was hurt," police Maj. Dave Kajihiro said.

Police vehicles had blocked the stolen Dodge Durango in front and from behind. Two police officers opened fire on the Durango after the driver refused orders to stop and tried to bash his way out of the drive-through line about 12:25 p.m., hitting one of the officers with the SUV, Kajihiro said.

Lopez was taken in critical condition to The Queen's Medical Center with two gunshot wounds to the abdomen and another to the arm, said Kajihiro, who heads the Pearl City police district.

Ed Bryce, an air-conditioning contractor from Ewa Beach, had just picked up his order at the KFC takeout window when he saw an unmarked white police van speed past him and head the wrong way into the drive-through lane.

"I thought, 'Whoa, why is this guy driving like that?' " Bryce said.

He said he heard what sounded like four gunshots in rapid succession and looked over to see a young woman being handcuffed as she lay on the ground.

"She was yelling at the driver, 'What did you do. What did you do' — only it was in pidgin," Bryce said.

Val Aipperspach of Nänäkuli was just turning right, off Paiwa Street into the Waikele Center parking lot, when she saw the Durango back up and the police officers coming at it with guns drawn.

"I definitely heard the shots fired," Aipperspach said, "but I can't tell you how many. I know it was more than one."

She said the two officers were approaching the Durango but the driver kept moving it back and forth, trying to get out of the line.

The Durango had been reported stolen Monday from a home on Hooiki Street in Pearl City. Yesterday, the son of the SUV's owner saw it parked in front of his father's house and called police, who "initiated a recovered vehicle report," Kajihiro said.

Police sent a tow truck to retrieve the Durango, but two men were seen getting into it and driving away about 12:15 p.m. before the tow truck arrived.

The owner's son and police officers followed the SUV as it headed west on H-1 Freeway, took the Waikele exit and entered the KFC drive-through, the driver apparently unaware that the blue and white police car had moved up right behind him.

A blue and white patrol car blocked the Durango from behind while the unmarked van containing Pearl City Crime Reduction Unit officers pulled up directly in front of the Durango to prevent its escape, Kajihiro said.

That's when the driver smashed into the car behind him and the van in front while trying frantically to flee from the area, he said.

One of the officers reported being "sore all over" after being knocked to the ground while the driver was trying to flee, Kajihiro said.

A second police officer injured his back while removing the driver and two passengers from the Durango, Kajihiro said.

Bryan Cheplic, spokesman for the city Emergency Services Department, said one of the passengers in the SUV was treated at the scene for minor injuries before being turned over to police to be arrested.

The two injured police officers were taken to The Queen's Medical Center and were in stable condition when the ambulance left Waikele, Kajihiro said.

A 25-year-old woman in the front passenger seat and a 25-year-old man in the back seat were arrested and taken to the Pearl City police station, Kajihiro said.

The KFC restaurant was cordoned off with yellow crime tape as police officers escorted witnesses inside to interview them.

Police said Lopez is well-known to police in the Pearl City district who investigate car theft complaints. He will likely face multiple charges when he is released from the hospital, including attempted murder, unlawful entry into a motor vehicle and criminal property damage, police said.

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