By KEVIN DEUTSCH, LESTER J. DAVIS, KELLY WOLFE
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 10, 2007
POMPANO BEACH — Police continued a massive manhunt this afternoon for two suspects who they say shot and killed Broward County sheriff's deputy and Wellington resident Chris Reyka, 51, behind a Walgreens early this morning, sheriff's officials said.
Described by friends and colleagues as a dedicated law-enforcement officer and family man, Reyka was looking for stolen vehicles around 1:20 a.m. when he was shot multiple times, Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne said.
At an afternoon news conference, Jenne stared into the television cameras and gave this message to the person or people involved in the shooting of the second sheriff's deputy in a week:
"We're at war. Get out of the county. "We'll get you. We'll find you."
Reyka had noticed a white car behind the Walgreens and pulled up near it to run the tag, stolen, he discovered, from another vehicle, Jenne said. The white car started backing up. Reyka started to step out of his car. The shooter, probably the passenger, stepped out and rushed Reyka, firing at least 10 shots in rapid succession. Five struck the deputy, Jenne said.
"We believe the shooter came forward, came forward, came forward, and was rushing him aggressively," said Jenne. "It was an aggressive rushing to execute and assasinate our deputy."
Because of the location of some of his wounds, investigators believe Reyka was signaling someone to stop when he was shot. His weapon was still in its holster. Investigators believe he never had a chance to draw it because the gunman moved so quickly. Some of the shots may have been fired from as close as two to four feet away, Jenne said.
Reyka was pronounced dead at North Broward Medical Center.
Van Roberts, who lives across the street in the 6,000-unit Palm-Aire condominium complex, said he was watching TV after 1 a.m. when he heard what he thought was a series of gunshots. He pulled on a shirt, shorts and shoes and jumped in his car to check out what had happened. Emergency lights were flashing at the Walgreens.
"I watched (the fire rescue truck) drive off with all of the police officers,'' Roberts said. "It had a big escort.''
Police are looking for the suspects, considered armed and dangerous, in a white, full-size American car with tinted windows and Florida tag F16-8UJ, according to a release from the sheriff's office. A vehicle fitting that description was captured by a security camera at Isle of Capri Casino about two minutes after the shooting, heading north on Powerline Road near the Pompano Beach store. The tinted windows were a continuous pane from the front to rear passenger area with no divider between the doors.
The license plate is registered to an Oakland Park plumbing company that hadn't noticed it was missing.
Jenne had this message for anyone driving a similar looking vehicle during rush hour today.
"You're going to get pulled over," he said. "Just cooperate."
Jenne announced a $70,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest in the second shooting of a deputy in a week.
NEWS 12 announced that reward had increased to $105,000 during its 5:30 p.m. newscast.
"Whether is takes a day, a week, a month or a decade, we will find the thugs responsible for this assassination," Jenne said. "We will find these folks and they will be arrested for murder."
Reyka lived in the Grand Isles development in Wellington with his wife, in a home they bought in 1997.
Friends and neighbors called Reyka a dedicated law enforcement officer and family man who divided his time between work, scouts, church and sports.
"He was a great guy, and you're not going to hear anything else," said Cara Thompson, a friend of the family for roughly a decade. "He was a total family man and a wonderful neighbor."
Reyka and his wife, Kim, have four children, Ashley, Sean, Autumn and Spencer. A son serving in the U.S. Marines was scheduled to go to Iraq in two weeks, Jenne said.
Thompson said Reyka's family is heartbroken and cloistered.
"(Kim) is shocked and devastated," Thompson said. "She's trying to be strong for everyone around her. Especially her kids."
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office sent 15 deputies to provide backup during the search for the shooter, said sheriff's spokeswoman Teri Barbera. In addition to the deputies, Palm Beach County also sent over a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, seven police dogs and a helicopter, she said. The Palm Beach sheriff's deputies are working road blocks and other details to free up Broward deputies to concentrate on the search, she said.
Deputies, police and troopers are patrolling every bridge in Broward County. Investigators believe the car, and the men in it, may still be in the county.
"Every inch of Broward county is going to be searched," Jenne said.
Dozens of officers mapped out search grids of the whole county at a command post, which they used in driving up and down every street looking for the car.
The sheriff's office had a sketch of someone seen near the scene, but the witness was unsure the person was involved, according to a department spokesman. It has not been released.
This shooting came just days after another deputy, Maury Hernandez, was shot in the head Monday after a traffic stop.
"This has been one of the most difficult, saddest, most challenging weeks this agency has ever had," Jenne told reporters this morning. "You look back at the summer, deputies have been shot. Deputies have been stabbed ... We're telling people: Let your emotion out. The men and women are very brave. There's a lot of macho people feeling very sad."
A suspect has been charged with attempted first-degree murder in the Hernandez shooting. He remained in critical condition at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.
"Hernandez is lying in bed ... clinging to life, fighting for life," Jenne said. "We were hit very hard this week."
A deputy told The Miami Herald a rash of recent robberies at Walgreens stores may have prompted Reyka to check out the suspicious cars at the Pompano store. The Walgreens was closed and cordoned off.
A former member of the SWAT Team and more recently BSO's Selective Enforcement Team, handling auto crimes and road patrol, Reyka was the deputy that colleagues clamored to work with because of his experience and expertise.
"Chris was, tactically, one of the finest deputies that we had," Jenne said.
In April of this year, Reyka was named deputy of the month for doing exactly what he was doing early Friday. On two separate occasions, he was checking out suspicious cars and his actions led to arrests or the recovery of property. In one case, the car turned out to be stolen, and in the other, a man burglarizing a nearby business was arrested. Promoted to sergeant in 2004, Reyka was also named deputy of the month in October 2001.
"He's the best auto-theft person we've ever had," Jenne said. "That's the way he was thought of."
Jenne had spoken with Reyka recently for his deputy of the month award. He asked him what he liked most about the job.
"He said he liked the chase," Jenne said.
Reyka was an 18-year-veteran of the Pompano Beach police department and later the sheriff's office, which took over law enforcement in the city in 1999.
"This is a person that lived life with honor and integrity," said Detective Martin Hedelund, a friend of Reyka's for 18 years. "Chris was the epitome of a family man."
News organizations from as far south as Miami were camped outside Reyka's comely suburb Friday morning. Volunteers at his church, St. Therese's, said they were tired of media inquiries. Law enforcement officials parked outside the gated community and made sure no one got to the family without permission.
Thompson remembered Reyka as a dad who, when he wasn't working, was front and center for his children. Even vacations were spent visiting far-flung family members. Reyka was the friendly neighborhood jogger who greeted passing, familiar faces with a grin and a wave.
Palm Beach County Sheriff's Captain Gregory Richter, a neighbor of Reyka's for four years, echoed those sentiments.
"He was one of those super good guys," Richter said. "It's such a tragedy, to hear something like this."
Richter said Reyka was fastidious about his uniform and his daily work outs.
"We don't have a lot of people like that," Richter said. "We can't give them up so easily."
Rick Marcus, a Broward deputy for the past 14 years, has lived in the same neighborhood as Reyka for the past two years.
"It's just heart wrenching," he said Friday, standing outside his community. "I'm broken up right now."
He said he knows that officers are always aware of the dangers associated with their jobs. But two shootings in a week has shaken the department.
"Something needs to be done, it's getting crazy out here," Marcus said. "When does it stop?"
To report information about the shooting, call BSO at 954-765-4321.
Staff writer Rochelle E.B. Gilken and The Associated Press and the Miami Herald contributed to this story.