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Chase Ends In Gunfire

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A veteran Omaha police officer opened fire on suspects following a pursuit through the middle of the city early Thursday.

A police pursuit began near 31st and Leavenworth and ended near 51st and Walnut. Police investigators say the suspects in the chase tried to run over an officer at the scene.

Sergeant Jay Leavitt, a seven-year veteran of the Omaha Police Department, opened fire.

Omaha police have now identified the two people injured when they were shot after a 20-minute chase early this morning in midtown.

Twenty-six-year-old Stephanie Espinoza-Gonzalez was the driver of a stolen sport-utility vehicle. Twenty-nine-year-old Roberto Lopez-Hernandez was the lone passenger.

Leavitt shot at the pair after Espinoza-Gonzalez tried to run over officers.

Espinoza-Gonzalez and Lopez-Hernandez were taken to Creighton University Medical Center. Both are expected to survive their injuries.

Parents bringing their children to kindergarten saw the shooting take place across Center Street.

"The police tape was quite disturbing to other people who drove by it," said Laurel Coates of Good Shepard Lutheran School. "They knew it wasn't just a robbery. It's something more serious. It's very disturbing that it's so close to school."

An internal investigation is underway to make sure proper procedures were followed.

The SUV was reported stolen a week ago near 35th and Leavenworth. Maria Rodriguez says she left her SUV running while she picked her kids up from a day care in that area. When she returned, her Toyota 4-Runner was gone.

The license plates were stolen from another vehicle a day later at 61st and Bedford Avenue.

Espinoza-Gonzalez and Lopez-Hernandez both have had previous run-ins with the law.

Espinoza-Gonzalez served 17 days for felony theft. According to her mother, that sentence was for stealing her car last year. She also said someone broke into her home two days ago through a window and carried off some electronics and DVD's and believes it was her daughter.

Lopez-Hernandez's history includes trespassing, obstruction and disorderly conduct.

He recently spent 30 days in Douglas County jail.

Witnesses say they had seen the two drive up and down Park Avenue in the SUV. They apparently told people someone had loaned it to them.

Lopez-Hernandez's ex-wife went to the hospital to check on him, where police arrested her for outstanding warrants.

Neighbors in the area of the shooting said they didn't know anything was happening until police banged on their doors around 4 a.m. Thursday.

But others, like Jay Diminico, say otherwise. Diminico says his nine-year-old beagle, Heidi, could barely contain herself with all the early morning noise and lights.

"I heard the helicopter and it was circling for 15-20 minutes, at least," said Diminico. "(I) stepped out front and heard some sirens and yelling and things like that and went back inside and heard the shots."

As more emergency vehicles raced in, it became clear it was serious.

"I saw one ambulance and what looked like a second, but I could only see the lights and the fire truck and things like that," Diminico said. "You don't expect that here, so you don't think that is what it is."


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