|Updated: 4/13/2011 10:46 pm
||Published: 4/13/2011 6:56 am
TRUMANN, Ark. (AP) - Wounded in the neck and scrambling away from a gunman, a young Arkansas police officer managed to shove his sergeant out of harm's way before dying in a shootout while pleading for his life, witnesses told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Two of the people who were in a car pulled over by Officer Jonathan Schmidt said the policeman died a hero - saving the life of Sgt. Corey Overstreet before taking on suspect Jerry Lard in a late-night gun battle.
"So many shots you can't even count," said April Swanner, 30, a passenger in the car and a high school classmate of the fallen officer.
Investigators identified Lard, 37, of Trumann, as the gunman and said he was under police guard at a hospital recovering from unspecified wounds. Officers would not release his condition, nor say where he was being treated. Formal charges hadn't been filed late Wednesday.
Authorities said Schmidt was patrolling the Delta community of some 7,000 Tuesday night and pulled over Keith Elumbaugh, 33, of Trumann, after discovering through a license plate check that the car's insurance wasn't up to date. Overstreet arrived a few minutes later.
Elumbaugh told the AP that, during the traffic stop, he was handcuffed and told he was being held for failing to appear on a misdemeanor warrant. The accusation: he violated the town's leash law with his ex-girlfriend's dog, a Jack Russell terrier and Chihuahua mix named Rascal.
Elumbaugh said Schmidt was smiling and joking with the people in the car - after mispronouncing Elumbaugh's name.
According to Elumbaugh, when Schmidt opened the rear passenger door where Lard was sitting, Lard lunged at him and started shooting. Schmidt, hit in the neck by a bullet, turned away and pushed Overstreet toward safety.
Once Overstreet was behind Schmidt's police car, Schmidt turned back toward Lard and began to return fire.
While he was shooting, Elumbaugh said, Lard was cursing Schmidt, saying "Die, (expletive)!"
"Please don't shoot me. Please don't shoot me," Schmidt cried out, Elumbaugh said.
In a pair of interviews with the AP, Elumbaugh said Lard, whom he characterized as a friend, showed up at his home earlier Tuesday night and asked for a ride home. He said he didn't know where Lard had been and wouldn't say whether he believed Lard was intoxicated or high or held any animosity toward police officers.
"I'm not going to comment on that," he said.
Swanner, who was in the front seat of the car, said that despite being shot Schmidt was able to keep firing as he fell to the ground, and Elumbaugh described how he "went over to pick (the other officer) up and put him behind the car, (and) put himself in the line of fire." A friend of Lard's was in the rear driver's side seat.
Both Elumbaugh and Swanner said they didn't know Lard was armed until the shooting started.
"I was right in the middle of the gunfire," Elumbaugh said. "I had to run away, run out of the line of fire."
"All I saw was everybody run. I couldn't move. I went deaf 'cause the gunshot was right here," Swanner said, putting a hand to one of her ears.
Former and current officers commiserated Wednesday at the 15-officer Trumann police station, describing Schmidt as a dedicated father and committed officer who was always prepared.
Jonathan Skaggs, a former Trumann police officer who recommended Schmidt for the job, said his friend left a higher paying job at a steel mill to join the police force in 2007 in the city where he was raised.
"He said he just wanted to do his part to give back to Trumann," Skaggs said.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel visited the town to recognize Schmidt and his loved ones.
"He is absolutely a hero," McDaniel said. "That family has given a great sacrifice to the people of Arkansas. They lost a father, husband, a son. These officers lost a brother to protecting the people of this community."
Schmidt worked as a night patrolman so he could spend days with his three children, Skaggs said. Schmidt had a 12-year-old daughter and sons ages 10 and 18 months.
Schmidt recently received a commendation for saving an infant's life by giving the child mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
"I'd put Jonathan Schmidt up against almost any cop in the state," Skaggs said.
Swanner expressed a similar sentiment.
"Jonathan was a brave man," Swanner said.
The Police Benevolent Foundation is accepting donations for the family of Officer Schmidt. Also, you can donate to the Jonathan Schmidt Memorial Fund at any Regions Bank. Or, you can text the phrase “COPS SCHMIDT” TO 85944 to give a $10 donation through your cell phone bill.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)