Police officers early Sunday were fired on while attempting to stop a car that had been reported stolen. They returned fire, killing one of the men in the vehicle and wounding the other, the Virgin Islands Police Department reported Monday morning.
The two men had been released from the Golden Grove Correctional Facility earlier this year and are considered suspects in a rash of crimes around St. Croix, including the Friday homicide in Estate Grove Place, according to police.
Police have not released the names of either man.
The death was the 26th homicide on St. Croix since the beginning of the year, the 54th in the territory in that time.
St. Croix Police Chief Oakland Benta released a statement Monday that an off-duty officer in the Peter’s Rest area had spotted the vehicle and called in the sighting to 911 at 2:41 a.m. Sunday. The vehicle was reported stolen Thursday.
The off-duty officer continued following the car and was joined by patrol units that converged on the area. The vehicle had by this time driven into the Estate Hope area on the road from the Melvin Evans Highway toward Hovensa.
When officers tried to stop the car they were fired on from the vehicle, according to Benta.
“The officers returned fire, and once the shots ceased they approached the vehicle and found two men in the vehicle, one a 24-year-old male and the other a 22-year-old male,” Benta said. “Both sustained gunshot wounds.”
Paramedics summoned to the scene immediately began working on the more seriously injured of the two, Benta said, but he succumbed to his injuries. The second man was treated and transported to the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital for further treatment.
Benta’s statement did not specify which of the two men, the 22-year-old or the 24-year-old, died of his injuries.
Benta also said one officer was hit by a deflection from one of the shots, but did not sustain an injury. He was transported to hospital where he was treated and held for observation.
Police at the scene reported finding two 9 mm handguns in the vehicle, along with extra magazines.
According to the chief, the car had been reported stolen Thursday in the Great Pond area. The owner had reported that he had been driving in the area when he was approached by two men, one carrying a long “rifle-type” weapon and the other a handgun. They ordered him out of the car and he complied. The two men then drove away in the vehicle.
According to Benta, a car of the same description had been reported in the area of Friday night’s Estate Grove Place shooting that took the life of 20-year-old Dushane Watts of Estate Upper Love. A similar car was also reported later that night firing shots at a second vehicle in Estate Williams Delight, Benta said.
“It is apparent that the description of this vehicle was given at numerous locations on the island where individuals were robbed of their belongings,” the chief said.
According to Benta, the 22-year-old male was recently released on bail from the Golden Grove Correctional Facility. He had been arrested and charged with unauthorized possession of a firearm and had been held on $25,000 bail.
The 24-year-old had been arrested Aug. 11 when he was apprehended driving a vehicle that had been carjacked Aug. 5. Benta’s statement did not make clear when he was released or under what circumstances.
Under a search warrant issued by the Superior Court, the home of the 24-year-old suspect was executed at 5 a.m. Monday. Benta said a shotgun was seized.
Benta said the incident is under investigation by the Major Crimes Bureau and the Internal Affairs Bureau. Under department policy, the officers involved in the shooting are under administrative leave pending completion of investigation.
Anyone with any knowledge of the case is asked to call the Major Crime Bureau at 712-6075, 712-6035 or the anonymous tip service, Crime Stoppers USVI, at 1-800-222-TIPS.