Morning shootout in East Ruimveldt
Gunmen riddle police vehicle with bullets, escape By Kim Lucas and Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
August 17, 2002

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Members of the police Target Special Squad yesterday came under heavy fire from gunmen after the vehicle they were chasing the suspects in crashed into a lamp post in East Ruimveldt.

Two members of the force were said to have been injured in the attack.

A single gunshot at around 5 am in the vicinity of the D. Boodhan Store at the corner of Stone Avenue and Pike Street, Campbellville, seemed to have been the genesis of the high-voltage chase and shootout, which culminated on Pineapple Street with the utility pole collision. Hijackings, shootouts and robberies in which the gunmen escape have become almost daily occurrences since a torrent of crime engulfed the country earlier this year.

Reports reaching Stabroek News yesterday state that Senior Superintendent of Police, Steve Merai, was shot in the left thigh and had to be rushed to the St Joseph Mercy Hospital.

Unconfirmed reports state, too, that another rank was shot in the face during the early morning shootout. That rank was, also, reportedly taken to the same hospital, but by press time, hospital sources said, both ranks had taken their own discharge. A source said, too, that staffers at the private institution were prevented from making phone calls from the hospital while the cops were there.

The police, in a release yesterday said the bandits opened fire on a mobile police patrol on Pineapple Street, East Ruimveldt at about 5.50 am, resulting in extensive damage to the force's vehicle, PFF 2885.

According to the statement, two civilian vehicles, one a minibus and the other, a Toyota Marino motorcar, which were parked on Pineapple Street, in the vicinity of the shooting, were also hit. At the scene, Stabroek News observed that three vehicles were damaged. The front and rear windshields of GEE 3928 were shattered, while minibus, BDD 2856, was pierced on the left side sliding door. The green Marino, HA 9972, was hit in the rear.

The release further stated that the mobile patrol was proceeding along Mandela Avenue, in response to a report, "when the patrol observed a white motorcar with four suspicious-looking men inside and proceeded to follow this car, which turned north into Pineapple Street."

It said the police patrol was just turning into Pineapple Street, when the occupants of the car "greeted them" with a hail of gunfire. "The police adopted tactical manoeuvres and returned fire," the police release stated.

But residents in the area had a different version. Many of them told Stabroek News that the gunmen stood in the middle of Pineapple Street and opened fire on the approaching patrol vehicle, causing the driver to lose control and crash into a lamp post.

The gunmen, residents said, kept up a steady barrage of gunfire, sending the policemen scampering for cover into a trench and a nearby yard.

The police release continued: "The police vehicle got stuck in the mud at the side of the road. The bandits rejoined their motorcar and escaped."

Seventeen bullet holes were evident on the police vehicle, the release stated, while a number of spent shells of various calibre were found on the scene. The police said there were no reports of injuries and that they were investigating.

The gunmen spoke French

Contrary to the police's statement, eyewitnesses claimed that the gunmen were travelling in two vehicles. Both cars were reportedly white, and while one acted as a decoy, the other stopped at the head of Pineapple Street, nearer to the East Ruimveldt Front Road, and waited on the cops.

"De bandits smart them. They park and wait on de police. They [the gunmen] come out de vehicle. They had on black [toques], bulletproof vests strapped with magazines and Timberland [boots] and camouflage clothes. Well armed. They fire over 100 rounds on them [the police]. Rapid, rapid. The police had no chance to fire back. So when they done fire, they walk back peacefully in they car. The police [backup] now coming up de Front Road and pass de [escaping] bandits. After de bandits done left, they [the ambushed cops] start firing back," recounted one eyewitness.

That same man told Stabroek News he saw two injured cops, one of whom he identified as Merai.

"It was so much ammunition that they dropping, dropping, dropping.

"They [the gunmen] pack magazine pon magazine and then de short one now, he going towards de the street [but] de other three call he, `Allez, allez!' [meaning (Let's) go, go!] They talk to he in French and he come back and go in de car. It is not none of the escapees... To me they look like deportees," the man said.

During the shootout, residents of one apartment on Pineapple Street were rudely awakened by bullets whizzing past them. They had to drop to the floor to cover from bullets that had penetrated the walls of their homes. One of the persons who was forced to shelter was an 89-year-old woman.

James Fraser, the chief security officer at Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD), told this newspaper yesterday that he and his wife, Joycelyn were lying in bed at about 5:30 am when the shooting began. It was in front of their home that the police vehicle crashed into the lamp post.

"After I hear this gunshot, Paddai, paddai, paddai! I just decide to pull her [his wife] under the bed. It was constant gunshot. We didn't know what was taking place, whether it was bandits or police. Not until I get up back and peep down, I saw the policemen taking shelter here [outside the southern corner of his house]. About four taking shelter under here. They holler, `Police!'," Fraser said.

The front windows of his home were shattered by bullets, while the lower concrete walls at the south and northern sides were pierced. Fraser's wife said she was lucky not to have been in the yard, as is usual for her early in the mornings, or she could have been injured or killed.

Another resident said that just before the shooting, he saw the police chasing the gunmen's car north along Pineapple Street.

"The police were chasing some bandits and the guys fired back on them. The policeman [who was driving] like he get confused and crashed into the lantern post," the resident reported.

According to that eyewitness, at one point both parties were shooting at each other. The shooting lasted for about five minutes.

"We had to duck, because shots firing all over the place. When I came outside, the police were hiding in the bushes. I saw only two of them," the resident told Stabroek News.

A woman said that after the shooting ceased, she peeked out and saw four, well-dressed young men, speaking some foreign language. They were taunting the police, she said, seeking a confrontation.

She claimed that one of the gunmen was walking towards the vehicle, but was called back. "They just stamp off they shoes, flick they gun and go in de car and drive away," the woman told Stabroek News.

Some two hours after the incident, a police tow truck managed to pull the crashed vehicle from where it was lodged against the lamp post. By midmorning, a crew from the Guyana Power and Light Inc was replacing the damaged pole.