Manhunt Target Hid In Firehouse
1. Background: Gang bangers get in a rolling shoot-out on I-84 in Hartford, CT. Get off the highway, drive around and then park next to...the West Hartford PD HQ...at shift change! 2 Shifts of WHPD take after the three gang bangers in two seperate cars and onto the next the community.
2. The "Rest of the Story" as not in the Courant article, but from FFs in the area...the Engine Company wasn't exactly "going to a meeting" like the article said, but they were being re-located by the Chief to get out of Dodge as police started swarming the area looking for the suspects in and around their station
Manhunt Target Hid In Firehouse
Police Say He Rode Firetruck Out Of Area
November 23, 2004
By DAVID OWENS, Courant Staff Writer
FARMINGTON -- So how did one suspect in last week's massive manhunt manage to get past a legion of heavily armed officers who had fanned out to search the neighborhood around Miss Porter's School.
He sneaked into a firehouse, eluded a search and hid on a firetruck as it drove past the roadblocks they'd set up, police say.
Lionel D. Gardner, 20, of Hartford, was caught about a mile east of the private school for girls after a caller told police he had seen a man jumping from a firetruck.
While officials said the firetruck scenario is the most likely explanation, they cautioned that their conclusions are based in part on comments Gardner made, and need to be viewed with some skepticism.
"We don't know if we believe him or not," West Hartford Police Chief James Strillaci said.
Police say Gardner was the driver of a car from which shots were fired at another car along I-84 and local roads in West Hartford Thursday. Police chased the car from West Hartford into Farmington village, where three men bailed out of the car.
Two were arrested quickly. As dozens of officers swarmed into the area to aid in the search, the third man was spotted heading north on Route 10 toward the Farmington Volunteer Fire Department station, just up the street from Miss Porter's School.
The officers secured the fire station to make sure that no one could get in or out, and - at least initially - waited for the regional SWAT team to arrive and search the station, Farmington Police Chief James Rio said.
In the meantime, two police dogs followed tracks from the car, past the firehouse and west toward the Farmington River.
Rather than waiting for the SWAT team, a team of four officers and a state police dog were assigned to go ahead and search the fire station. The police wanted to use the station as a command post, and also wanted it to remain available in case firefighters needed to respond to calls.
"They went in and thoroughly checked the firehouse," Rio said Monday. "They said he wasn't in there."
Believing that the firehouse was secure, the assembled SWAT team was sent to check buildings at Miss Porter's School and in the neighborhood to make sure the suspect wasn't hiding in one of them, Rio said.
"I know we did everything possible to keep that neighborhood safe," Rio said.
As the search of the neighborhood continued, police got a call that someone had seen a man jumping from a firetruck near the Oakland Gardens fire station on Farmington Avenue. Moments earlier, a truck had left the Farmington Volunteer Fire Department station and headed east on Farmington Avenue toward Oakland Gardens, where several firefighters would be attending a meeting.
Police now believed that their suspect had been hiding on that truck, Rio said. A line of cars raced toward the station, and Gardner was quickly apprehended.
"Was it human error, animal error, I don't know," Rio said. "We don't know for sure where he was.
"Could he have been in there the whole time? Yeah. There's no question about it. What we did do was keep the neighborhood safe, make sure the people who were home in the adjoining streets were OK, and if they weren't home, we checked the exterior of their homes to make sure he didn't break in."
Gardner and the two other men are facing an array of charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and weapons charges.
Considering what the three are accused of - "driving like maniacs [and] cranking out rounds in the center of West Hartford" - it's good news that no one was hurt, Strillaci said.
"The result is pretty desirable," Strillaci said. "We got off lucky."