By Taylor Pettaway, Mark Dunphy, Jacob Beltran
San Antonio Express-News
BALCONES HEIGHTS, Texas — A Balcones Heights police officer was critically injured Wednesday after a shootout with at least two men at an apartment complex, officials said.
Sgt. Joe Sepulveda, an 18-year veteran of the department, was hospitalized after the exchange of gunfire, Balcones Heights Mayor Suzanne de Leon said.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said Sepulveda and a fellow officer, Edgard Ortiz, were called to the SOL Apartments for a report of suspicious persons and a possible vehicle burglary around 1:30 p.m.
In the parking lot of the complex at 6945 West Interstate 10, Sepulveda made contact with at least two suspects in a white pickup.
“Something in that truck may have made that sergeant feel threatened,” Salazar said.
Sepulveda drew his weapon and exchanged fire with the people inside the truck. As he retreated, Sepulveda was shot and fell to the ground, the sheriff said.
Ortiz returned fire while dragging his partner to safety, then drove him in their patrol vehicle to a nearby hospital.
“That officer’s quick thinking actions probably saved the sergeant’s life,” Salazar said.
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The suspects fled the scene.
BCSO said on social media that it was searching for a man and a white pickup in connection with the shooting. The post included a photo of the man wearing what appears to be a white sports jersey and a black baseball cap.
Salazar said they have since recovered the pickup.
De Leon described Sepulveda as an “amazing person,” and that he is expected to have a long recovery.
“I believe because of the quick action of officer Ortiz, he’s going to pull through,” de Leon said, adding that Ortiz has five years of EMS experience. “We’re very lucky to have him. I call him the ‘hero’ of the day.”
More than 20 law enforcement vehicles representing multiple agencies converged at the location after the shootout. Leon Valley Police Chief Joe Salvagio has his officers help patrol the municipality, the sheriff said.
The suspects may still be armed and dangerous, Salazar warned. He encouraged anyone who sees the suspects to be the best witnesses they can be when taking down details of the suspects, but to not approach any of them. People with tips may call 210-335-6000.
Laura Laborico, an employee of the nearby Howard Johnson hotel, heard sirens and police speeding to the scene shortly after 1:30 p.m.
Balcones Heights officers often make rounds at the hotel, she said.
“We’re very close with all the officers in Balcones Heights. We know them. It concerns us,” Laborico said.
Nearby schools were placed on lockdown after the shootout, BCSO said. Officials at St. Gregory the Great Catholic School, which is near the apartment complex, said it was under a soft lockdown but parents were allowed to pick up their children.
Angel Segarra, 58, who lives in the SOL Apartments, needed to be dropped off at a street corner near the apartment complex after the VIA cab he was in was forced to stop by police.
Segarra said he was not surprised to learn a shooting had occurred at the complex.
“I’ve been here six years. I’ve seen it all,” Segarra said. “They broke into my car, they’ve done everything here. It’s ridiculous.”
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Sepulveda’s shooting has rattled the Northwest Side community of more than 3,000.
“It’s just very sad that this is happening, and our hearts go out to the family,” de Leon said. “I know Joe is going to have a long recovery, but we’re going to be there for him.”
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