No motive has been found for a shooting spree Saturday that, following a traffic stop in Odessa, killed seven and injured dozens more.
Initially, that deadly traffic stop was nothing extraordinary, but Palestine Police Asst. Chief Mark Harcrow said the word “routine” no longer applies to any stop a police officer makes.
“Sometimes there's a complacency, and officers think it's nothing but a traffic stop,” Harcrow told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “What was once considered routine no longer is; no amount of training can prepare you for the unknown.”
On Saturday, after getting pulled over by a Department of Public Safety trooper for improper signaling, gunman Seth Ator, 36, opened fire and sped away.
During the chase, Ator sprayed the crowded roadway and surrounding area with bullets, and hijacked a U.S. Postal vehicle, before police killed him.
The seven dead ranged in age from 15 to 57. Three police officers and a 17-month-old girl were among the dozens injured.
PPD Detective Sgt. Broc January, an eight-year veteran of the force, knows first-hand any traffic stop can turn deadly.
In February of last year, January attempted to pull over a car owned by Aaron Blagg. The driver, Dorinda Lee, 22, refused to pull over, and led January on a low-speed chase down Texas HWY 155, before turning down a country road roughly five miles outside city limits.
Lee exited the vehicle and immediately surrendered. Blagg, 30, however, failed to comply with January's commands, and emerged with a handgun.
January shot Blagg, fatally wounding him.
The incident, January said, hammered home how important training is for an officer to spot potential threats during routine situations, such as traffic stops.
“There are lots of safety measures and precautions for traffic stops taught to us at the academy and through continued training,” he said. “By far, they are the most dangerous duty we perform on a daily basis.”
Saturday's shooting is as bad as a traffic stop can get, January said. “This was absolutely a worst-case scenario,” he said. “It's always bad if an officer is shot – or deadly force must be used – but to involve the killing and injuring of innocent civilians – that's as bad as it gets.”
Since January, PPD has pulled over more than 4,300 cars for traffic violations.
“This incident shows how officers must remain vigilant and aware,” January said. “Most people stopped are law-abiding citizens that made a single traffic mistake; they're not shooters.
“We can't approach every traffic stop with SWAT teams and long-guns. We have to rely on our training.”
Harcrow said both police officers and residents are responsible for ensure interactions with law enforcement go smoothly.
“Putting the situation at ease is a two-way street,” he said. “The officer should already be working at putting the driver at ease. The driver can help by being polite, keeping their hands visible, not making any sudden movements, and not reaching around the car.
“A little common sense on both sides can go a long way.”