High Wind Watch issued December 21 at 1:55PM PST expiring December 23 at 2:00PM PST in effect for: Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego
LAKESIDE, Calif. -
The two Sheriff's deputies who suffered serious wounds in a nearly 15-minute gun battle with an alleged pedophile at an East County apartment complex continue to recover Thursday.
Meanwhile, 10News learned more Thursday morning about the San Diego Police Officer who is being hailed a hero for saving the two wounded deputies.
Sgt. Craig Johnson and Det. Ali Perez were each struck with rounds from a high-powered rifle shortly after arriving at an apartment complex at 12701 Mapleview St. around 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, according to a San Diego County Sheriff's Department statement.
They were both rushed into surgery when they arrived at Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa Tuesday afternoon.
As of Thursday, Johnson was in serious condition, but is now recovering in the intensive care unit from a gunshot wound to the arm. Perez, who seemed to have sustained more serious injuries, needed to return to surgery to stop bleeding Tuesday night, sources told 10News. Perez remains in critical condition.
A relative of Perez told 10News that Perez was shot twice, in the shoulder and the stomach. His spleen also needed to be removed. Perez was considered a hero during a 2001 shooting at Santana High School. He is an 18-year deputy currently serving in the sheriff's child-abuse unit
Johnson, a 23-year veteran of the department assigned to the Santee Sheriff's Station, is married to a San Diego police officer.
Sheriff Bill Gore arrived at the hospital shortly after the deputies and stayed with the deputies' loved ones for several hours.
Johnson and Perez went to the apartment to investigate a woman's report that her live-in boyfriend -- later identified as 30-year-old Dan Witczak -- had molested one of her two young daughters. The alleged victim is not related to Witczak.
Authorities said Johnson and Perez came under fire from inside the apartment and that they returned fire. More deputies rushed to the scene and immediately joined in the shootout, which lasted around 15 minutes, but no one other than Johnson, Perez and Witczak was hurt in the exchange.
The sheriff's department said Johnson was taken across the landing and into the opposite apartment for protection. Perez was dragged down the staircase.
Witczak surrendered after suffering at least one gunshot wound, according to sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser.
Medics took Johnson and Perez to Sharp Memorial Hospital in Linda Vista, while Witczak was taken to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest.
"We had two of our deputies shot today in the line of duty," Gore said in a statement. "It's a constant reminder of how dangerous this job is that we do every day. There is cause for great concern, but we are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that both deputies will make a full recovery."
Johnson is a 23-year veteran of the sheriff's department and currently assigned to the Santee sheriff's substation, while Perez is with the department's child abuse unit and an 18-year veteran.
As of Tuesday night, Witczak was recovering from surgery. 10News learned he will be taken into custody and he will face several counts of attempted murder on a peace officer.
10News learned Witczak has a criminal past in his home state of Wisconsin.
He was charged with obstructing an officer and charged with disorderly conduct twice. He also faced charges for damaging property.
In civil court, 10News found that Witczak had several financial judgments and liens on his record.
He also holds several hunting licenses in Wisconsin.
Witczak's girlfriend told reporters the events that led to the gunfire began about 7:30 a.m., when she allegedly found cell-phone photos of Witczak -- an out-of-work auto mechanic -- performing lewd acts with her 6-year-old daughter.
The woman, identified only as Stephanie, told reporters she left their apartment and called the Sheriff's Department to report the apparent molestation. Later in the morning, during a call being monitored by investigators, the suspect allegedly admitted to the crimes, claiming he had received an offer of $50,000 to post the pornographic images online.
The woman said she was still on the phone with her boyfriend when the detective and sergeant arrived at the couple's apartment and, a short time later, shots rang out.
Gene Thompson and his wife are moving into the Mapleview Apartments. They said they were supposed to live in the apartment beneath the one belonging to the suspect.
"We were kind of nervous about it, but it's an isolated event and it can happen in any community," said Mrs. Thompson.
Right now, their thoughts are with the two injured sheriff's deputies.
"We're hoping that they'll be alright," said Gene Thompson.
"We're proud of our sheriff's deputies. We know a couple of them out here," added his wife.
The American Red Cross set up a temporary shelter for those who could not get back into their complex because of the closed streets. A spokesperson said 28 people stayed at the shelter.
Officials: SDPD officer helped save deputies
A San Diego police SWAT officer who happened to by driving by when the gunfire erupted rushed to the scene of the shootout and "was instrumental" in saving Johnson and Perez from the prospect of further injury, according to a sheriff's department statement.
The officer helped formulate a plan to pull the wounded deputies out of the line of fire, took part in their rescue and then rendered first-aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, officials said.
Officials did not release the officer's name. 10News learned he has been with the San Diego Police Department for nine years.
During a briefing on the case Wednesday, sheriff's Cmdr. Tim Curran said Johnson and Perez were wearing bulletproof vests when they were ambushed by the gunman.
"I can tell you, we're very happy they had them on yesterday," he said.
Investigators do not believe the suspect's claim that he shot himself, according to Curran.
"At this point ... in the investigation, none of our information is indicating that those wounds were self-inflicted," he said.
The deputy sheriffs' group has created a donation account for Perez, who "faces a long road to recovery," the head of the agency announced.
"We are still unsure if or when he will return to work," Schaller added. "Though he will still receive his salary, we expect this event to be a financial hardship for the Perez family, which includes two daughters in college."
Contributions to the Detective Ali Perez Support Fund may be made to any San Diego County Credit Union branch or to the Deputy Sheriffs' Association office in Poway. Credit-card donations also may be phoned in to the DSA at (858) 486-9009, ext. 100.