Police: Person of interest in officer shooting in custody

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(Photo: Denver Police)

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Tony Lopez Jr. (Photo: Denver Police)
Tony Lopez Jr. (Photo: Denver Police Department)

DENVER -- A person of interest sought by Denver Police in connection with a harrowing shooting on Tuesday that left one of their officers in critical condition turned herself in on Wednesday afternoon, according to authorities. Officer Antonio Lopez Jr. remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday night.

Denver Police Cmdr. Ron Saunier with the major crimes unit spoke to the media Wednesday morning, saying his investigators are confident that there was just one gunman involved in the shooting of Lopez on Federal Boulevard near 38th Avenue, and that the suspect remained in the hospital receiving treatment for a gunshot wound to his lower leg Wednesday.

Saunier said that according to investigators, that suspect ambushed Lopez in a hail of gunfire minutes -- maybe even seconds -- into a traffic stop around 11:20 a.m. Tuesday.

After listening to radio reports from Lopez and eyewitness accounts, Saunier said police were searching for a white or Hispanic "heavyset woman," who was in the vehicle with the suspect on Tuesday.

She was later identified as Melinda Espinosa, 40. Police said she was wearing an orange shirt or Denver Broncos jacket at the time of the shooting, Saunier said.

Espinosa turned herself in Wednesday afternoon, according to Denver Police, around 3 p.m.

Though he failed to disclose the number of times officer Lopez was shot -- a source has told FOX31 Denver it was at least five -- Saunier pointed to the bulletproof vest Lopez was wearing and the quick reactions from first responders, who utilized a combat tourniquet, as reasons Lopez was survived.

His family released a statement Wednesday afternoon:

"We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from Mayor Hancock, Chief White, Deputy Chief Quinones, Tony Junior's fellow officers, the Denver Police Foundation and the community. Tony Jr. remains in critical condition with a long road ahead to a full recovery. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time."

RELATED: Denver officer shot is son of police commander, one of ‘Best of 2014’

Despite varying reports, it remained unclear Wednesday why Lopez initiated the Tuesday traffic stop. Saunier said police were unable to question Lopez before he went into surgery, and that he remained in critical condition Wednesday morning, making it imprudent to seek those answers at the current time.

But it was clear, Saunier said, that "immediately after" he was on his radio announcing the traffic stop, Lopez was back on the radio indicating he had been shot and calling for backup.

It was also clear, Saunier said, that the carjacking involved in this crime rampage Tuesday occurred after the initial shooting and not before it, as some earlier reports had indicated.

Saunier said after fleeing the westbound on West 38th Avenue after shooting, the suspect abandoned his vehicle, entered the parking lot of a US Bank on 38th just east of Lowell Boulevard, pushed a woman out of her running vehicle in the teller line and sped off.

Thankfully, Saunier said, two officers were in the area, noticed the vehicle exit the bank at a high rate of speed and were able to pursue and disable the vehicle using a PIT maneuver just over two miles away at 20th Street and Chestnut Place near Coors Field.

At that point in time, a suspect matching the description Lopez had given was taken into custody without incident, Saunier said.

Police were not releasing the identity of the suspect Wednesday morning, but said he was wanted on a home invasion warrant out of Denver. Saunier also confirmed the suspect has a lengthy criminal record, including arrests for homicide and possession of a weapon by a felon.

Saunier went on to indicate the suspect was unlawfully in possession of a long gun at the time of Tuesday's shooting, but that the weapon did not appear to have been used in the attack on Lopez.

Initial reports from police indicated there was multiple suspects in the shooting. Saunier said that misconception may well have developed out of a witness account indicating two vehicles sped away from the scene of the shooting.

Investigators later discovered, Saunier said, that one of those vehicles was being driven by a bystander, who was fleeing the scene at a high rate of speed for safety reasons.

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