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Policeman credited with saving life

Shooting
Dec. 25, 2012 @ 04:44 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Police Chief Skip Holbrook used the term heroic in referring to the split-second decision of a patrol officer, whose act might have saved the life of a local security guard.

A preliminary investigation shows Huntington Police Officer Stephen C. Fitz fired four gunshots in killing a knife-wielding, tractor-trailer driver, who had attempted to use his weapon to attack the security guard, Holbrook said. It happened just before 1 a.m. Saturday in the 3200 block of Riverside Drive.

"He acted very heroically," Holbrook said of Fitz. "I'm convinced that he more than less saved the life of that security guard.

"I think it's a testament to the training these officers receive, and how they have to make split-second decisions and process a lot of information at one time while making that split-second decision," the chief added.

An autopsy confirmed the truck driver -- Joshua Johnie Emerson, 32, of Hamilton, Ala. -- received four gunshots wounds. That matched the number of times Fitz discharged his weapon, Holbrook said.

Neither the security guard nor a female passenger in Emerson's tractor-trailer received significant injuries. Holbrook said the woman has been cooperative with investigators.

Fitz initially pulled on scene believing there had been a collision between the tractor-trailer and the security guard's smaller vehicle. Fitz then spotted Emerson acting aggressive and confrontational toward the guard, Holbrook said.

Investigators still are determining circumstances that led to the confrontation and specifics of Emerson's criminal history, Holbrook said. He did not elaborate on Emerson's prior run-ins with police.

As protocol would entail, the incident spurred dual investigations. An internal, professional standards inquiry will look at any violations of department policy. The other investigation is conducted by the department's Criminal Investigations Bureau. Its findings will be turned over to local prosecutors for further determination.

Fitz remained on administrative leave Monday. Holbrook must receive the prosecutor's determination, and Fitz must pass a fitness-for-duty evaluation before he can return to work. That evaluation will judge the officer's physical and psychological well-being.

Fitz's résumé includes 18 years of military service, including a decade spent on active duty. His deployments include the Gulf War in 1990 and in Afghanistan. He now serves with the West Virginia Air National Guard assigned to its security force.

Fitz was sworn in as a Huntington Police officer May 1, 2007.

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