LOWER BURRELL, Pa.,None - A Lower Burrell police officer was gunned down in the line of duty Wednesday night, and Channel 11 News has learned what happened in the moments before his death.
Just before 7 p.m., officers got word that fugitive Charlie Post, 33, was in a white sport utility vehicle in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen on Greensburg Road.
A friend drove Post to the Dairy Queen and then went into the restaurant while Post remained in the SUV, Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle learned.
The friend then tipped police off, letting them know Post was in the lot.
Officer Derek Kotecki, 40, a K-9 handler, was the first officer on the scene. As Kotecki approached the suspect's vehicle, Post got out and shot the officer dead, police said.
"Obviously, Officer Kotecki was a man with a great deal of courage. He was able to face a man who had actually threatened, within the last week, the officers of the city of Lower Burrell with physical harm," said Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck.
Councilman Joe Grillo and other officials at the scene characterized Post's shooting of Kotecki as an "ambush."
Police had reason to believe Post was dangerous, but a family member of Post's and some investigators said police were hopeful the fugitive was planning to surrender on previous shooting charges.
New Kensington Sgt. Dino DiGiacobbe said a Lower Burrell detective managed to contact Post on a cellphone and was trying to convince him to surrender.
But DiGiacobbe said Post claimed to have a gun with 14 bullets: "Thirteen for the cops and one for me."
Investigators are trying to determine how Post, who had a lengthy criminal history, was able to purchase the gun. Police believe it was the same weapon Post fired during an incident with his boss earlier this month.
Post was wanted on charges that included attempted homicide and aggravated assault after, police said, he fired several shots at his boss, New Kensington contractor Terry Janosky, 44, on Oct. 2.
After shooting Kotecki, Post ran toward a wooded area behind the restaurant as other officers opened fire. The Westmoreland County Coroner's office said Post died due to gunshot wounds to the head, chest and abdomen. On Friday, the coroner said it has not yet been determined which wounds were self-inflicted or inflicted by others.
Police escorted Kotecki’s body to Pittsburgh on Thursday for an autopsy. On Friday, the coroner said Kotecki died due to gunshot wounds to the head, left arm and abdomen.
Alicia Heymers, co-owner of New Ken Auto-Motive across the street from the shooting scene, said she was cleaning in her business when she heard a commotion outside. She said she saw several officers with their weapons drawn, firing toward the woods behind the Dairy Queen.
"There were a lot of shots, at least six or eight," Heymers said. "I thought (they were shooting at) a bear until I heard them yelling, ‘Get down, get down!"'
Kotecki, an 18-year-veteran, was a married father of two and one of 16 police officers, including Chief Lindo, in Lower Burrell, a city of about 13,000.
Lindo expressed his grief to reporters at the scene.
"I know I'm devastated by this. Derek was a great, great officer," Lindo said. "He was one of those police officers who everyone liked. He was fair, he was just and the kids liked him. ... The dog is taking it very badly, too."
Police said Kotecki's K-9 had to be muzzled and led away, because the animal would not leave the slain officer's body alone.
Fraternal Order of Police, Pennsylvania State Lodge President Les Neri issued the following statement Thursday on the death of Kotecki:
"Patrolman Kotecki was a fine police officer, husband and father. A public servant in the truest sense, he went to work each day to protect the community he grew up in and loved. He is a hero, and the valor he showed will never be forgotten. On behalf of Pennsylvania's entire law enforcement family, we express our deepest sympathies to Patrolman Kotecki's family and the entire Lower Burrell community."
On Friday, U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire, a native of Lower Burrell and 1986 graduate of Burrell High School, paid tribute to Kotecki in a speech to the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Lower Burrell will always remember Derek's bravery and valor," Altmire said.
Visitation for Kotecki will be held Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Rusiewicz Funeral Home in Lower Burrell.
A memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Monday at the funeral home, followed by a funeral mass at 11 a.m. at Mt. St. Peter's Church in New Kensington.