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State Patrol: Motorist stopped Wednesday on I-494 had drugs in car

Minnesota State Troopers inspect a vehicle stopped on an Interstate 494 exit ramp in Woodbury Wednesday afternoon, as authorities were searching for a suspect in connection with the shooting of a Mendota Heights police officer. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)

A man whose vehicle raised suspicions of officers on a manhunt was arrested and jailed Wednesday in Woodbury.

Police seeking the person responsible for killing Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick spotted a vehicle leaving Mendota that matched the general description of the suspect’s car, said Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow.

When the vehicle didn’t stop, that amplified an already heightened police response; Grabow said suspicions were high after the vehicle was first seen coming off a trail near a park in Mendota.

The driver led police on a chase that ended near Lake Road on Interstate 494 in Woodbury. The car was disabled by police and the driver was removed from the car, where more than a dozen officers surrounded him with guns drawn.

The man, identified on the Washington County jail roster as a 46-year-old Minneapolis resident, was initially apprehended for impaired driving. Grabow said the man refused all tests. Drugs and drug paraphernalia were recovered inside his car, Grabow said.

The driver was booked into Washington County jail on suspicion of fleeing police and fifth-degree drug possession. Formal charges were pending through the Washington County Attorney's Office.

Woodbury police said Wednesday that the man was initially taken to Woodwinds Health Campus; it was not made clear why he was hospitalized.

St. Paul police located the actual suspect in the fatal officer shooting incident later Wednesday.

The suspect, Brian George Fitch Sr., was injured, as was a woman in the car he was driving, during a shootout with police in St. Paul.

Fitch, 39, was a career criminal and wanted fugitive before the shooting — he got out of prison in February, and a Minnesota Department of Corrections warrant was issued for him in June.

Patrick, 47, was married and had two teenage daughters. He was about two blocks into West St. Paul when he was critically wounded at Dodd Road and Smith Avenue, a busy area where many people heard the shots about 12:20 p.m.

At the nearby Holiday convenience store, a father and son getting gas saw the traffic stop. The officer went to the driver’s side window, and the driver quickly fired three shots and sped away, said the men.

The father and son ran over, as did a nurse who tried to save the officer, said the men, who asked that their names not be published. They saw the officer was shot in the head and his gun was still holstered and buckled.

The witnesses hadn’t seen the driver, but heard his name from police later. They recognized Fitch as having grown up on St. Paul’s West Side. The younger man said he went to Humboldt High School with him.

After the shooting, someone who talked to Fitch told the father and son that he said, “Watch for fireworks. It’s gonna be like the Fourth of July.”

As police in SWAT gear searched on the West Side for Fitch on Wednesday night, they received a tip that he was in the North End. Responding officers saw Fitch driving in the area of Rice and Sycamore streets and he tried to evade them, pulling into a parking lot shortly before 8 p.m., police said.

A police vehicle pulled in front of Fitch, an officer started opening his door and Fitch opened fire, police said. Officers returned fire, striking Fitch and a woman in his car. Both were taken to Regions Hospital. The woman had non-life-threatening injuries and Fitch’s condition wasn’t immediately known.

Police said they weren’t looking for additional suspects.

Patrick joined the Mendota Heights Police Department in 1995. He died at Regions Hospital, said Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener.

“He was a very dedicated police officer and a family man who absolutely adored his children,” Aschenbrener said. “It’s going to be a very trying time for them. He cared deeply about the city of Mendota Heights, and it’s going to be a very tough time for the Mendota Heights police department.”

Many people reported hearing the shots that felled Patrick.

Mike Youness was in his home, heard the shots and went outside. He walked about 120 yards to where a Mendota Heights police SUV was at the side of the road with its door open. An officer was lying on the ground with a severe head injury, Youness said. A woman who Youness believes was a nurse attempted to revive Patrick.

“She said it was futile,” Youness said. “He was already gone. … This is very sad. A guy leaves for work and then look what happens.”

Mike Lowe was walking his dog when he heard three gunshots, looked over and saw the officer “crumple to the ground.”

Fitch lives in the South St. Paul/West St. Paul area, police said. He was out of prison on supervised release for a burglary conviction from Washington County.

Fitch has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for theft, escaping custody and fleeing from police officers. His most recent conviction was last spring, when he was sentenced for terroristic threats and fifth-degree assault for an incident dating back to 2012.

Patrick was the first Mendota Heights officer killed in the line of duty. Mendota Heights is a city of 11,000, and the police department’s authorized strength is 17 officers.

“It’s a hard day for all of Mendota Heights,” said Mendota Heights City Council member Ultan Duggan. “You think this will never happen to you and then out of the blue ... boom here is what happens.”

The last law enforcement officer to be slain in the line of duty in Minnesota was Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker, 31, who was shot to death in an ambush on Nov. 29, 2012. The suspect killed himself two months later.

The last law enforcement officer to be slain in the line of duty in the Twin Cities was Maplewood police Sgt. Joseph Bergeron, 49, who was shot to death in an ambush in St. Paul on May 1, 2010. A St. Paul police officer fatally shot the killer during an ensuing manhunt. An accomplice pleaded guilty and remains in prison.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, a media partner with Forum News Service, contributed to this report

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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