Update to story: Suspect in Lakeside Shooting Pleads Not Guilty to Attempted Murder
Updated September 26 @ 3:55 p.m.
Sheriff's officials were guardedly optimistic Wednesday that two veterans of their department, including one from the Santee Station, will make full recoveries from serious wounds they suffered in a nearly 15-minute gunbattle with an alleged pedophile at an East County apartment complex.
Sgt. Craig Johnson and Detective Ali Perez came under fire from a high- powered rifle shortly after arriving at a rental residence in the 12700 block of Mapleview Street in Lakeside to investigate a child-abuse allegation about 12:15 p.m. Tuesday.
The lawmen went to the apartment after a woman who lives there reported that her roommate-boyfriend, 30-year-old Daniel Robert Witczak, allegedly had molested one of her two young daughters.
The suspect opened fire almost immediately after Johnson and Perez arrived, according to sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser. More deputies and police officers rushed to the scene and found themselves in a shootout that lasted nearly a quarter of an hour.
The fusillade ended when Witczak surrendered, wounded, Fraser said.
Medics took Johnson and Perez to Sharp Memorial Hospital in Linda Vista, and transported Witczak to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest. All three underwent emergency surgery.
Perez, an 18-year deputy currently serving in the sheriff's child-abuse unit, remained in critical condition late this morning. The status of Johnson, a 23-year department member assigned to the Santee Sheriff's Station, was listed as serious. Each suffered torso and shoulder wounds.
"There is cause for great concern, but we are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that both deputies will make a full recovery," Sheriff Bill Gore said.
Dave Schaller, president of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association of San Diego County, disclosed in an online posting this afternoon that the more seriously wounded lawman had been "touch-and-go much of the night."
"This morning, we were pleased to learn Detective Perez was able to squeeze his father-in-law's hand," Schaller wrote.
The extent of Witczak's injuries has not been disclosed.
According to the suspect's girlfriend, whose name has not been released, the events that led to the gunfire began about 7:30 a.m., when she found cell- phone photos and videos of Witczak, an out-of-work auto mechanic, allegedly engaging in sex acts with her 6-year-old daughter.
"It's graphic pictures of him doing stuff with his body parts and her body parts," the mother told News 8.
She said she left their apartment to call the Sheriff's Department. Later in the morning, during a call being monitored by investigators, the suspect allegedly admitted to the crimes, claiming he had received an offer of $50,000 to post the pornographic images online.
The woman said she was still on the phone with Witczak when the detective and sergeant arrived at the couple's apartment and, a short time later, shots rang out. She said Witczak then got back on the line and told her he had shot himself, and she heard someone say, "Officers down."
A San Diego police SWAT team member who happened to by driving by when the gunfire erupted rushed to the scene of the shootout and "was instrumental" in saving Johnson and Perez from the prospect of further injury, according to a Sheriff's Department statement.
The officer, whose name has not been released, helped formulate a plan to pull the wounded deputies out of the line of fire. He then took part in their rescue and rendered first-aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, officials said.
During a briefing on the case late this morning, sheriff's Cmdr. Tim Curran said Johnson and Perez were wearing bulletproof vests when they were ambushed by the gunman.
"I can tell you, we're very happy they had them on yesterday," he said.
Investigators do not believe the suspect's claim that he shot himself, according to Curran.
"At this point ... in the investigation, none of our information is indicating that those wounds were self-inflicted," he said.
The deputy sheriffs' group has created a donation account for Perez, who "faces a long road to recovery," the head of the agency announced.
"We are still unsure if or when he will return to work," Schaller added. "Though he will still receive his salary, we expect this event to be a financial hardship for the Perez family, which includes two daughters in college."
Contributions to the Detective Ali Perez Support Fund may be made to any San Diego County Credit Union branch or to the Deputy Sheriffs' Association office in Poway. Credit-card donations also may be phoned in to the DSA at (858) 486-9009, ext. 100.
-City News Service
Read more: Dan Witczak Named as Suspect in Shootout With 2 Lawmen in Lakeside
Also read: Memorial Installed for Fallen Deputy Ken Collier at Santee Sheriff's Station