A man killed in a shopping plaza shootout with Santa Ana police late Wednesday afternoon is believed to have been the suspect wanted in last week's critical wounding of two Long Beach officers, authorities said.
Wednesday's shootout occurred about the time officials in Long Beach were announcing a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Oscar Gabriel Gallegos, 33, the man thought to have wounded the two city police officers.
Gallegos was the only suspect being pursued in connection with the Friday afternoon shooting of Officers Abe Yap, 35, a nine-year veteran of the department, and Roy Wade Jr., 39, who had graduated from the police academy three weeks before the attack. The two officers remain hospitalized in critical but stable condition, and doctors have expressed optimism about their prospects for recovery.
The man believed to be Gallegos was spotted by Long Beach police Wednesday riding in a silver Toyota Camry. They tracked the car going into Santa Ana about 5 p.m. and called Santa Ana police, said Sgt. Lorenzo Carrillo, spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department.
Santa Ana police followed the car into the parking lot of a strip mall in the 200 block of East Warner Avenue, Carrillo said. The suspect got out of the car and immediately began shooting at the three officers, the sergeant said. The officers, he added, returned fire and struck the suspect, who collapsed to the pavement and later was pronounced dead at the scene.
A couple of businesses and cars in the strip mall were hit by bullets, but no other people were hurt. Police detained and questioned the driver of the Camry, Carrillo said.
Authorities said they did not expect confirmation of the slain man's identity until today. "It's believed to be [Gallegos], but we're waiting confirmation from the coroner's office," Carrillo said.
Officer Juan Gomez, a spokesman for the Long Beach Police Department, said the slain man appeared to generally match the description of Gallegos, who was said to be 5 feet 9 and 250 pounds, with tattoos on both forearms and short hair or a shaved head.
Gallegos, who authorities said had recently lived in Long Beach, was being sought on a warrant for attempted murder of a police officer.
Danielle Padilla, 18, who works at a restaurant in the strip mall and who was having her hair done at a salon in the Santa Ana shopping center near the shooting scene, said she heard several bursts of gunfire, and about 20 shots in all. She said that she and other customers and employees of the salon took cover in the back of the salon for a couple of minutes during the exchange of gunfire.
"I never heard a real gunshot like that. I was worried about my family. Everything happened so fast," she said. "It was pretty scary," Padilla added, saying that one of the officers engaged in the battle was positioned near the entrance of the salon.
In Friday's shooting, authorities said, a suspect opened fire after being pulled over for running a red light about 1:20 p.m. near 6th Street and Long Beach Boulevard downtown.
According to police, the suspect surprised Yap and Wade when he jumped out of his sport utility vehicle and immediately started firing. He struck the patrol car's windshield at least six times. Yap and Wade were unable to return fire.
Police said the suspect fled south on Long Beach Boulevard and, at Broadway, exchanged gunfire with other officers, then drove off. Officers pursued the gunman and later found his white 1998 Nissan Pathfinder in the underground parking structure of an apartment building in the 200 block of Elm Avenue.
A bullet entered Yap's face near the lip and came out just above the cheek. Wade suffered at least four gunshot wounds to his upper torso and neck, including at least one just above his protective vest.
Officials said Yap, who has been Wade's training officer, is known in the department as a stolen car expert. They said he is a UCLA graduate and father of a 3-year-old child who had recently come home from the hospital after surgery.
Wade is a former basketball star at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach who worked in various positions in the school district before beginning a police career this year.
According to authorities, Gallegos had a long history of arrests in the city when he was in his late teens and early 20s, on suspicion of such offenses as trespassing and the sale and transport of a controlled substance.
They said he had also been deported in 1994, although they provided no details on where he was sent or the incident prompting the deportation.
But the last time Gallegos was arrested, in 2003, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. In that incident, he was pulled over for a traffic stop and then arrested on an outstanding warrant on a rape charge in Texas. The warrant, however, turned out to be for someone else with the same name.
Gallegos spent several days in jail before the mistake was discovered, according to a federal lawsuit he filed in 2004 against the city of Long Beach, Police Chief Anthony Batts and 10 unnamed police officers. The suit, which alleged false arrest and civil rights violations and sought $5 million in damages, was dismissed in 2005. Gallegos did not collect any damages.
Word of Wednesday's shooting was given to Batts during a late afternoon news conference held by city officials at police headquarters to announce the $75,000 reward. The chief, a spokesman said, abruptly ended the news conference and came back a short time later to tell reporters that officials believed Gallegos to be the man killed in a shootout that had just taken place with Sana Ana police. Batts quickly ended the second news conference without taking questions.
Times staff writers J. Michael Kennedy and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.