DONALDSONVILLE — The man accused of shooting an Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy in the hand on Tuesday got out of the stolen car he was riding in, assumed a “shooter’s stance” from behind the vehicle and began firing shots with a .44-caliber Magnum revolver at the officer responding to a shoplifting complaint, Deputy Chief Tony Bacala said.
Deputy James Atkins, who had just gotten out of his unit and was still standing behind his car door, was shot in the left hand.
Thrown to the ground by the shot, he managed to make it to cover at a nearby home, where the resident called 911. The alleged shooter, Chadwick Schwender, who the Sheriff’s Office said later confessed, fled the scene with two other people who had been in the car.
“A .44 Magnum is a hand cannon,” Sheriff Jeff Wiley said Wednesday.
Atkins, who’s been on the force for a little over five years, is expected to make a full recovery and was released from the hospital Wednesday morning, the sheriff said.
When the day was over, Schwender, along with his compatriots Jennifer McGhee and John Wesley McMullen, were in Ascension Parish Jail, booked on a long list of counts, including attempted first-degree murder and aggravated burglary with a weapon. Deputies conducted a five-hour search Tuesday evening for McMullen, who they originally accused of being the triggerman, eventually finding him in a shed on a sugar cane field.
The trio, all from Florida, left the scene of the shooting and made a failed attempt to switch cars by robbing a Donaldsonville man of his car at gunpoint, Bacala said. The car wouldn’t run for them.
McMullen is wanted by police in Lake Wales, Florida, on several counts, including attempted first-degree murder, related to the beating and robbing of a motel owner on Saturday. He also is accused of setting a fire at the motel, where he had left the owner tied up, according to an article in a Florida newspaper, The Ledger.
The car the group was using was the motel owner’s stolen vehicle, Bacala said.
The Donaldsonville incident began about 3 p.m. Tuesday when Atkins responded to a complaint by Wal-Mart employees that two men and a woman had shoplifted ammunition.
Employees provided a description of the alleged shoplifters’ car, a white Toyota. Atkins spotted that vehicle on St. Patrick Street in Donaldsonville, Bacala said.
Atkins activated his unit’s lights to stop the car.
“The suspect’s vehicle stopped and (Atkins’) vehicle stopped,” Bacala said.
“The front passenger male emerged from the car,” got behind it and started firing, Bacala said.
After leaving the scene, the three drove about 100 yards away to a dead-end street, Cy Bean Road, and found a man unloading groceries from his car, Bacala said. The man, seeing that something looked wrong, ran into his house and locked the door.
“One of the individuals kicked in the door, pointed a gun at him and said, ‘Throw me the car keys,’ ” Bacala said.
The victim complied; when he was alone again, he ran out his back door and into fields behind his house.
As it turned out, Bacala said, the car owned by the victim was tricky to start. The car later was found abandoned in a nearby ditch.
“Chadwick (Schwender) fled in his own car, McMullen fled into some woods nearby. The female stayed in the (victim’s) yard,” Bacala said.
Deputies who responded to Atkins’ injury got the call just minutes later from the resident whose car had been stolen and converged on the scene.
“A deputy tried to stop (Schwender’s) vehicle. He swerved around it” and ended up on nearby Vatican Street, where he crashed the car, Bacala said.
Schwender and McGhee were arrested. With assistance from Louisiana State Police and tracking dogs from a nearby state prison, McMullen was tracked down about 7:30 p.m.
Deputies later found road maps of Canada and Mexico in the stolen Toyota, Bacala said.
If they were attempting to leave the country, they may have planned a sort of itinerary along the way.
“In the back seat of the police car, the female was saying, ‘We were going to Mardi Gras and I woke up in Donaldsonville,’ ” Bacala said.
The Sheriff’s Office said Schwender, 27, of Orlando, and McGhee, 27, have served time for property and drug charges. The Ledger newspaper article said all three suspects had been living in Lake Wales.
They all were booked into Ascension Parish Jail on counts of attempted first-degree murder, flight from an officer, theft of goods under $500, armed robbery, aggravated burglary with a weapon, aggravated assault with a firearm, illegal use of weapons, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, home invasion and illegal possession of stolen things over $1,500.
McMullen, 35, also was booked on a count of fugitive from another agency.
“This is a new phenomenon for this department,” Sheriff Wiley said about the shooting injury of the deputy.
Wiley said that until Tuesday, there had not been a shooting of an Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy in the 40 years he’s been on the force.
Bail had not been set as of Wednesday afternoon.
“What we’re hoping and expect is to get the highest of bonds” in light of the maps of Canada and Mexico in the car, Wiley said. “They have no home here. They’re traveling criminals.”