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Thief takes cop car for wild ride
By ERICA HALL
A Tacoma man was charged yesterday with stealing a King County Sheriff sergeant's vehicle from the Regional Justice Center in Kent, using a SWAT rifle to hold up an elderly south King County couple and shooting a neighbor who confronted him.
Police arrested Edgar Rosendo Garcia, 34, under the South 272nd Street overpass at Interstate 5 near Federal Way Tuesday afternoon after matching him to witness descriptions of the suspect. He was booked at the Regional Justice Center on suspicion of assault, burglary, robbery and theft. Bail was set at $1 million.
Sheriff Department spokesman John Urquhart attributed the theft of the squad car and the subsequent finding of the rifle to bad luck.
The sergeant who was driving the car had some things to hand off to a co-worker, including a set of car keys, Urquhart said. When he parked at the justice center in Kent to take care of some police business, he left the keys and the other items on the front seat.
The alleged thief spotted the keys in the car and broke a window to get in. Police aren't sure why he was at the courthouse.
Even though the keys were to a different police car, they worked in the sergeant's cruiser. "What are the odds of that?" Urquhart said.
Garcia drove the car south toward Auburn's West Hill area, then pulled over and rummaged around in the trunk ("Because he had the keys, he could get into the trunk," Urquhart said) and found a police-issued SWAT rifle in a case and ammunition. Locking the rifle cases in the trunks is "as much as we secure them," Urquhart said.
The suspect abandoned the cruiser on a dead-end street, said Paul Peterson, spokesman for the Kent Police Department, which is investigating the incident. Armed with the rifle, the suspect barged into the green-trimmed home of an elderly couple on 31st Avenue South and South 272nd Street and demanded their car keys. The couple complied and the man left. Police said the couple were shaken up, but not injured.
As Garcia allegedly was trying to find their car, which wasn't parked in the driveway, a neighbor confronted him. When the neighbor asked what he was doing, the man responded, "Shooting you," and pulled the trigger, according to police, hitting him in the forearm. The neighbor's injuries weren't life-threatening, and he was taken to Valley Medical Center for treatment.
After the shooting, Garcia began walking up South 272nd Street toward Des Moines, police said. He threatened another neighbor, who fled by jumping over a fence, before throwing the rifle into the trees along South 272nd, where police later found it, according to authorities.
Police arrested Garcia a few minutes later under the overpass.
The county sergeant won't been disciplined for leaving the keys in the car, Urquhart said. "Believe me, we have lots of rules and regulations, but nothing that says don't leave someone else's keys in the car because they might fit," he said.
Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, firstname.lastname@example.org