WALNUT CREEK (AP) — A California Highway Patrol officer was in critical condition and a suspect was dead after a Tuesday morning rush hour shootout on Interstate 680 near Walnut Creek, authorities said.
The shooting prompted the closure of the highway in both directions as traffic came to a standstill. The incident occurred shortly before 8:30 a.m. after the male officer conducted a traffic stop, CHP and Contra Costa County sheriff's officials said.
Sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said during an afternoon news conference that it was not clear what prompted the traffic stop. The sheriff's office was assisting with the investigation.
The driver and sole occupant of the vehicle pulled a gun and opened fire when he was approached by the officer, Lee said. He also confirmed a witness account that a second officer fired at the suspect. The suspect was fatally shot.
Neither the officer nor the suspect's name has been released.
Sgt. Diana McDermott, a CHP spokeswoman, said she knows the wounded officer personally and thanked the public for its support as his family gathered at the hospital.
"As you can imagine, this is a very difficult situation for us," McDermott said. "We appreciate all the calls and concerns from the public. We thank you very much. It means a lot to us."
Highway Patrol officers have somberly gone in and out of the hospital throughout the day, consoling each other and occasionally conferring with hospital security and medical staff.
"We are like a family, but it's not just us, it's everybody. The community, the media, the public - we're all a family and this affects all of us," McDermott said. "Being strong for each other is very important. (The officer's) family will be in all our prayers and thoughts."
Contra Costa County investigators determined that a second vehicle being sought had no connection to the shooting after they interviewed its driver, Lee said.
Authorities were alerted by a 911 call to Walnut Creek police from a motorist who said an officer needed help, CHP Officer John Fransen said. A second CHP officer arrived and assisted his wounded colleague.
One eyewitness, Gene Russell, told KRON-TV that he heard loud popping sounds while traveling in his car on southbound I-680. He looked under the vehicle next to him and saw an officer down.
Russell said he then saw a second officer shooting at the vehicle.
"I would say he emptied his gun," Russell said. "The traffic continued to roll. My response was, 'I'm in a soft-top car. I need to get as far away from there as possible.'"
The highway was expected to reopen to traffic in time for the evening rush home.