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Officer Wounded in Newport Beach : Violence: Man discovered slain next to critically injured policeman. Officer's gun and another are found, but shooting scenario is unclear.

March 13, 1995|RENE LYNCH and ANNA CEKOLA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEWPORT BEACH — A Newport Beach police officer was clinging to life Sunday after being shot in the head, possibly while exchanging gunfire with a man who was found dead by his side, police said.

Authorities were trying to piece together the circumstances leading to the shooting that took place about 4:10 a.m. Sunday on a street that dead-ends at Newport Harbor Lutheran Church just before a scenic overlook of Newport Bay.

"At this point we have more questions than answers," said Newport Beach Police Sgt. Andy Gonis.

Officer Robert Henry, 30, was in very critical condition with a piece of bullet in his brain after three hours of surgery at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. A five-year veteran, Henry is married and a father of three children, including a 3-week-old infant, Gonis said.

The dead man was identified as Carlos Caicedo, 24, of Garden Grove. His relatives expressed surprise at the news.

"For all of us, it's rather a shock--unbelievable," said Paul Caicedo, the dead man's cousin. "He's always been a very level-headed person."

Henry and Caicedo were found lying next to each other on the ground behind a red compact car parked near the church. Henry's patrol car was about 50 feet away in the church parking lot, an area often used by police officers to handle paperwork and other duties between calls, police said.

Officers answering a report of "shots fired" said it initially appeared as though a single body was lying on the ground. But as officers approached, they were stunned to find Henry, Gonis said. At first they thought he was dead, but then they saw him move his fingers.

Two handguns--the officer's revolver and a weapon believed used by the suspect--were found at the scene. Ballistic tests are needed to determine if the men exchanged gunfire, as is suspected, Gonis said.

The responding officers found the compact car with a passenger door open, leading to speculation that a third person was involved, police said. The car was parked head-in at the dead-end. Police dogs and helicopters equipped with infrared devices searched the grassy area known as the Upper Castaways and adjacent streets and fields.

Henry was recalled Sunday as a popular officer dedicated to work and working out, but most of all to his wife and children.

"He is a real family man," said Lt. Jim Carson.

Police were still gathering evidence at the crime scene when parishioners began arriving for morning worship. Church officials considered canceling services, but instead urged worshipers to pray for the officer and his family. Church windows overlooking the crime scene were covered before services began, said the Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett.

"This is too close for comfort," he said.

The last time gunfire wounded a Newport Beach officer on duty was about 25 years ago, when a patrolman was shot by a drunk driver.

Times staff writers Mark Landsbaum and Mike Wagner contributed to this story.

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