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SAN DIEGO —
A California Highway Patrol officer shot Wednesday alongside Interstate 8 in Mission Valley was struck by a bullet from his own gun as he and a driver struggled for control of the weapon, the agency said Thursday.
It’s not clear who pulled the trigger during the encounter that wounded the officer, who was shot in his right thigh.
During a news conference Thursday afternoon at the CHP’s regional headquarters, Capt. Taylor Cooper, commander of the San Diego-area office, identified the injured officer as Tony Pacheco, a San Diego native who has been with the department for seven years.
The captain identified the driver as Yuhao Du, a 25-year-old resident of San Diego, whom bystanders held down until other officers arrived and arrested him. UC San Diego officials confirmed Du is a graduate student studying physics at the university.
Du was booked into jail on suspicion of several charges, including attempted murder of a police officer. Online jail records indicate he will be arraigned Friday in San Diego Superior Court.
The Wednesday incident unfolded around 6:20 p.m. as Pacheco approached Du, who had crashed his vehicle in the center median of east I-8, CHP officials said. It’s unclear whether Du was intoxicated when the crash occurred.
Pacheco arrived at the scene in response to reports of the crash. He parked his CHP vehicle in the fast lane to block traffic and protect himself and Du, Cooper said.
Investigators said Du was in front of his Audi when he suddenly attacked Pacheco, lunging for the officer’s firearm. Cooper said the altercation was unprovoked and happened within a few seconds of Pacheco encountering Du.
During the struggle, one round went off, hitting Pacheco, officials said.
“They continued to struggle for the firearm, at which time several bystanders — and we are very grateful for that — assisted Officer Pacheco in taking Mr. Du into custody while he (Pacheco) was severely injured,” Cooper said.
Pacheco was able to get on his radio and notify dispatchers that he’d been shot. Passing motorists also called 911.
Traffic on the freeway was already slowed because of the crash and the closed lane, and several passersby stopped to assist the officer.
Some of them provided medical aid to Pacheco, and others restrained Du until other law enforcement officers arrived, officials said. Pacheco’s call of 11-99 — police code for officer down — drew a fast and heavy response from law enforcement agencies throughout the area.
The captain thanked the many officers who responded to the incident and the passing motorists who came to Pacheco’s aid.
“Without the public this may have had a different outcome,” the captain said.
The bystanders, he said, are “just everyday, average-day citizens.”
“In our eyes they are heroes,” Cooper said. “They put their lives on the line. Because if this could have (gone) in a different direction, maybe we’ll have multiple fatalities. In this case, none.”
Pacheco sustained serious injuries and was taken to a hospital, where he remains in stable condition. He is expected to make a full recovery, Cooper said.
The captain said at the news conference that he heard the sirens, but didn’t realize one of his officers was involved until he got a phone call about the incident.
“It’s like a parent,” he said. “You hear something and you want to be able to help your family. Tony’s family to me. Once I got the phone call, I immediately jumped in the car and responded to the scene.”
According to a GoFundMe page that was started by another CHP officer to support Pacheco and his family, the officer’s injuries will require rehabilitation and possible surgeries.
Pacheco has two small children, and his wife is pregnant.
“These funds will be used to help pay for things like childcare, meals, transportation for family members, and other needs so that Tony can keep his family by his side during his recovery,” the fundraising page read.
Whether the initial struggle and fired shot were caught on camera remains a question. CHP officers typically don’t have body-worn cameras, and as of Thursday the agency had not been able to check whether the patrol vehicle’s dashboard camera recorded anything. CHP investigators are canvassing for possible security camera footage from the area.
Cooper noted that traffic was backed up at the time of the incident, and said it’s likely that other passersby witnessed it.
Anyone with information about the incident was asked to call the CHP’s Investigative Services Unit at (858) 650-3620.
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com