June 19, 2004
One Officer Killed, Another Hurt in Standoff; Gunman Dead
By Angela K. Brown
The Associated Press
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas A 20-year Navy veteran who received a medical discharge three years ago told his parents this week that they would never see him again. Two days later, Timothy Joe Irwin was dead after shooting two police officers who had gone to a Wal-Mart parking lot to check on a blue camper-style van that he was in.
Sgt. Gregory Hunter, 54, died Friday, but Officer Bruce Seix managed to fire a few rounds before he was wounded, and those shots killed Irwin, said Grand Prairie detective John Brimmer.
Brimmer initially said the van, with New Mexico license plates, was stolen. But later he said Irwin borrowed it from a friend in New Mexico.
Michael Probst, the van's owner, said Irwin is his longtime friend and former brother-in-law.
"We went to boot camp together," Probst said in Saturday editions of The Dallas Morning News. "I've known him for years. He was married to my sister for a while. . . . You don't expect something like this."
Irwin, who lived in Grand Prairie, was considered 70 percent disabled, Brimmer said. But the detective said he did not know the nature of Irwin's service-related injury or what he had been doing since leaving the Navy.
"Obviously, whatever was going on in his life, he was having problems," Brimmer said.
After getting a call about a van that had been running all night, Hunter went to the front of the vehicle and Seix to the side about 9:20 a.m. Friday, Brimmer said. Irwin, 42, shot Hunter at least twice through the front windshield; Seix was shot but returned fire.
Seix, 44, was recovering in the hospital Saturday after his lung and liver were pierced by bullet fragments that entered above his bullet-proof vest, Brimmer said.
The shooting led to a six-hour standoff. SWAT negotiators spoke on a loudspeaker in English and Spanish, telling Irwin to call them or come out, but he never responded. Brimmer said Irwin apparently used his cell phone at some point to call his girlfriend.
When authorities entered the van about 3:30 p.m., an hour after firing several flash-bang grenades and tear gas inside, they found Irwin dead. Police also found a pipe with a fuse, which was being examined by a bomb squad, Brimmer said Saturday.
John Jacobs, the manager of a Payless ShoeSource near the Wal-Mart, said he was about to leave the store to go to the bank Friday when he heard three pops. He said he thought a car must have backfired until he heard another volley of pops.
"When I heard whistling, I knew rounds were coming in our direction. So when I heard the whistling, I hit the ground and I called the cops," said Jacobs, who was locked alone in the store as the standoff continued outside.
For more than six hours, 150 Wal-Mart shoppers and 60 employees were locked inside the store as a safety precaution. They sat in patio chairs, ate snacks and watched developments on televisions in the electronics department.
About 30 customers who had parked behind the store were escorted out a back door about noon, but the others stayed inside until the standoff ended.
Police also closed the access road along Great Southwest Parkway and about 4 miles of Interstate 20 near the Wal-Mart, creating gridlock traffic for most of the day. The van was in a parking space next to the road in this suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Hunter became the Grand Prairie Police Department's first black officer when he was hired in 1973. He left in 1981 for a security guard job, then returned to the force in 1983. He became a sergeant five years ago.
Hunter received 31 commendations during his career, including the Baton for Respect, which recognized that he was "one of the most respected officers in the entire department," Grand Prairie spokeswoman Amy Sprinkles said.
"One would only have to know him to realize his character can't be questioned and he takes a lot of pride in being a police officer," fellow officer Leslie Brown said in nominating Hunter for the award he received last year.
Hunter is survived by his wife, Denise, and four children.
Associated Press writer Liz Austin contributed to this report.