Officer critically wounded, man dies in airport shooting

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A man arguing Thursday with workers at an airport ticket counter grabbed a police officer's gun and shot a patrolman before he was killed by another officer, authorities said.

The patrolman, Steve Walker, 52, was critically injured with cracked ribs, a damaged lung and a bullet lodged in his back, but his condition was stable, said Dr. Charles Yowler, a trauma physician at MetroHealth Medical Center.

The shootings at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport followed a disturbance earlier Thursday morning involving the same man in an airport parking garage, city Safety Director Martin Flask said.

The man, whose name police were withholding pending fingerprint verification of his identity, then tried unsuccessfully to buy a ticket at the Delta Air Lines counter. After arguing with a Delta employee, he went to the adjacent United Airlines ticket counter and purchased a ticket to Chicago, then got into the confrontation with the officers, Flask said.

"It appears the suspect who was shot by police does have an extensive criminal history," including three stints in prison for burglary and drugs, Flask said.

The airport remained open and no flights were delayed, said airport Commissioner Fred Szabo. The shooting happened in an area before security check points.

"We have several witnesses who saw it happen, a number of police officers, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) employees and some passengers as well," Szabo said.

Walker, a Cleveland officer for 18 years, including 10 at the airport, was resting with little pain and talking to his wife, Yowler said. He could be released within a week.

"He's awake. He's alert. He's very stable," Yowler said.

There were no immediate plans to remove the 9 mm bullet in his back, and any decision on surgery will be determined by bleeding in Walker's lung, Yowler said.

Police Chief Michael McGrath talked to Walker and said, "He was just thankful that he was alive."

Walker's wife, Bernice Walker, thanked the community for its support but asked for privacy as the family focuses on her husband's recovery.

She said her husband of 21 years is a devoted father of two daughters. "He enjoys spending time with his family and surfing the Internet," she said.

Walker (pictured, above) was not wearing a bulletproof vest and McGrath would not say whether that violated police rules.

"Right now our concern is the officer's life, his well-being. We'll address that at another time," McGrath said during a news conference at the hospital.

Another officer was treated for a bite to his neck by the suspect, McGrath said.

The area around the United ticket counter was sectioned off with yellow police tape. At one point, moments after the shooting, several police cars and fire trucks with flashing lights jammed the passenger loading area.

Airport officials led passengers arriving for flights around the crime scene to ticket counters, which remained open.

Some United workers were interviewed by police, company spokesman Robin Urbanski said.

Stephen Zabrosky, 63, of Ellington, Conn., who flew from Hartford to Cleveland to visit relatives in his old hometown, said he feels safe traveling by air once he passes through airport security.

But Thursday's shooting highlighted his fears about areas before the check points, he said.

"There's not enough security from here to the ticket counter," Zabrosky said, motioning to the busy curbside outside the terminal. "They should have the security here before they get to the ticket counter."

McGrath said security at the airport's sidewalk and ticketing areas is sufficient. "I believe our security at the airport is very good," he said.

Forty Cleveland police officers are assigned to the city-owned airport.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)