HURRICANE, W.Va. — Investigators continue to dig into the details of an incident from late Sunday night and early Monday morning in which three officers with the Hurricane Police Department and two Putnam County sheriff’s deputies engaged in a fierce gun battle with a suspect. The exchange left the suspect dead and two officers injured, one of them with a gunshot wound.
The incident began around 11:30 p.m. Sunday when Hurricane Sgt. Phillip Armentrout noticed the suspect on U.S. Route 60 just east of Culloden speeding and gave chase. Armentrout had a probationary officer riding with him who had been on the job only a couple of weeks.
“It’s my understanding the suspect fled and the chase neared 90 miles an hour,” said Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia. “They were on the radio and other units were responding.”
The chase ended a couple of miles east on Route 60 when the suspect attempted to make a sharp left turn on to State Route 34. Another cruiser was approaching from that direction at the same time and the suspect’s vehicle left the roadway and crashed.
Armentrout and the young officer immediately approached the wrecked vehicle to apprehend the suspect. The other officers set backed them up.
“Sgt. Armentrout went to the vehicle and I think initially they thought he was going to be cooperative, but when he got the door open, it went bad,” Sorsaia explained. “When they were trying to make the arrest is when the gunfire started.”
Armentrout was shot in the leg. He immediately returned fire, according to Sorsaia, as did the young officer with him. The officers on the perimeter also opened fire on the vehicle where the suspect was still sitting. The vehicle’s windshield was riddled with bullet holes, some of which were from the suspect shooting through the glass toward officers. Despite being hit multiple times, the suspect was able to exit the vehicle. He ignored commands to get on the ground, continued to fire, and was eventually shot dead.
“He was ordered to get on the ground and it just continued until finally he went down and died,” said Sorsaia. “He was hit with multiple rounds.”
It’s the fifth incident of law enforcement in Putnam County drawing and firing a weapon in the line of duty in the past two years–two of those have resulted in a fatality. Prior to that, Sorsaia said it hadn’t happened in 30 year and the trend worried him.
“It’s the new normal,” he said. “If you’re a cop in Putnam County, and probably anywhere else in West Virginia, in your mind you have to understand there is a strong likelihood you’ll engage in combat with your weapon and people will get shot. The statistics now show that is the case.”
Toxicology tests on the suspect who was killed in this case are incomplete. It’s unknown if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but Sorsaia blamed much of the increased violence on the addiction problems in West Virginia.
“When people have addiction they act erratically and sometimes they get to the point they don’t care if they live or die,” he said.
The suspect lived in Huntington, but was originally from Illinois. State Police have not released his name pending notification of his next of kin.