By Jorge Casuso and Mary Moore
A suspected accomplice in three gang killings shot and wounded three Santa Monica police officers and two civilians on the pier early Tuesday morning then held 15 people hostage before surrendering five hours later.
The two suspects in the incident were taken into custody and the five victims were transported to area hospitals, where three officers and a civilian remain in stable condition, police said. The second civilian was treated and released.
The hostages were released after a tense five-hour standoff inside the popular Playland Arcade on the pier. The final two hostages were released at 6:40 a.m., police said.
"The situation could have had catastrophic consequences," said police department spokesman Lt. Gary Gallinot.
The incident started at 1:04 a.m. when the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department told Santa Monica police that a suspect wanted in three separate homicides -- one in Los Angeles County and two in Orange County --was on the pier, Gallinot said.
The suspect, Jose Flores, 30, of Baldwin Park, was taken into custody outside 322 Santa Monica Pier after an altercation with police, Gallinot said. Two weapons were recovered on him.
Flores was taken to the hospital and treated for injuries sustained during the arrest, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The second suspect, Oswaldo Amezcua, 25, also of Baldwin Park, ran into the arcade and started to exit through the rear door chased by police. Amezcua - believed to be involved with Flores in the three homicides -- opened fire on the officers wounding three, as well as two civilians.
Sources familiar with the investigation told the Lookout that one of the officers fired a round by accident; his gun went off as he hit the ground.
Two other officers involved in the incident also fired a round each, sources said.
Described by police as a "very hardcore gang member," Amezcua then took 15 hostages inside the arcade, Gallinot said. Amezcua refused to comply with police department demands to surrender.
A crisis negotiating team made contact with the suspect, who released three children and a woman at around 4 a.m., police said. Other hostages were freed over the next several hours. Amezcua also is allegedly connected with the assault of a police officer in Fontana on June 24.
Amezcua surrendered without incident after crawling through a back window of the arcade.
One of the hostages, identified as Brittney Thompson, 15, told the Associated Press that she was having her picture taken in an arcade booth when gunfire broke out. She said the gunman took her mother and younger brother hostage but later allowed her mother to phone a relative.
"He started shooting and I ducked down," Thompson told the wire service. "The police opened the door and I ran out.... I kicked off my shoes and ran."
Ellen Brennan, the president of South Beach Neighbors, emailed the Lookout as the incident unfolded, saying that she heard "nine shots in the first volley, followed by several more volleys.
"There were so many shots I thought it must be fireworks - until I heard the first siren," Brennan, who lives near the pier, wrote in the 1:53 a.m. email. "I watched with binoculars from my apartment building and saw one body loaded on a gurney.
"The pier is swarming with police and the helicopter just arrived," Brennan wrote. "This is not an 'oh, well.' This was a major shootout.... This is very serious."
The three officers wounded in the shooting were identified as Christina Corea, a six-year veteran, who was in stable condition after surgery on her arm; Steven Wong, an eight-year veteran, who is in stable condition after being shot in the leg and Jim Hirt, a 20-year veteran who also is in stable condition after suffering a leg wound. Wong and Hirt are expected to be released Wednesday.
Hirt is a detective sergeant in the office of criminal investigation. An avid runner and a good athlete, Hirt is a member of the Army Reserves who recently returned from Bosnia, according to sources close to the department. He is a former president of the Police Officers Association.
Corea is a member of the gang unit and is part of the bicycle unit. Her
father also served on the SMPD. According to sources close to the department,
she was hit with two rounds in the lower left arm. One round shattered
the main bone; the other went out the elbow.
The other victim was a 35-year-old woman who was shot in the leg. She was treated at the hospital and released.
The incident early Tuesday was the second multiple shooting on the pier in less than four months. On March 11, five people were wounded during what police believe was a gang-related shooting.
On May 28, a passenger leaving a beach parking lot near the pier was shot and wounded shortly before midnight.
At noon Tuesday, on what should have been a busy Fourth of July, the pier was shut down.
The ferris wheel at Pacific Park sat oddly still. The parking lot was vacant. There seemed to be a smaller crowd on the bike path and fewer cars on the streets around the pier, an area normally choked on holidays with people and traffic.
Indeed, the waterfront around the pier seemed quieter Tuesday than it normally is even on summer weekends.
Every entrance and exit to the pier was draped in yellow police tape and officers were standing guard. Curious passersby hung over the railing in Palisades Park, where the park intersects the top of the pier on Ocean Avenue, and looked down on the wooden structure.
Their interest was fueled by the television news trucks that showed up on the scene. Many of the onlookers asked each other what had happened. Those who got answers seemed shocked by the details.
The news - which was soon beamed across the nation -- spread fast up and down the beach, especially among the regulars
Ralph -- the street artist who everyday creates the sand mermaid along the bike path just north of Hollister Avenue -- had the full story shortly after the standoff ended.
"Awful," he said, shaking his head.
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