SWAT teams used tear gas to end a 10-hour standoff with a gunman accused of threatening to kill a motel owner.
Officers fired eight rounds of tear gas through the window of the man's room at the Siesta Motel, 3109 S. State, just after 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. He jumped in the shower and turned on the water, which gave him some protection from the potent vapors, said South Salt Lake Sgt. Beau Babka.The fumes eventually got to him and he walked out the front door unarmed. Officers quickly tackled and handcuffed him about 4 a.m., ending the standoff.
The ordeal started when the motel's owner, Pat Kassahn, heard a loud bang from unit No. 14, the room in which the man was staying. Kassahn knocked on the door to see what happened and a confrontation ensued.
"I was working in a room next to his and I heard a bang that sounded like a door slamming," Kassahn said. "I knocked on the door to check on him and he told me to keep my nose out of his business or he'd waste me with his gun."
Kassahn's son looked into the room while the two were talking and saw a silver handgun with a black handle sitting on the bed, Kassahn said. Kassahn walked to the phone in the motel's office and called 911.
Two South Salt Lake police officers knocked on the door a few minutes later and were given the same treatment as Kassahn. The man yelled threats and profanities through the door and told the officers to come inside the room because he had a "surprise for them," Babka said.
The officers left and called for backup. SWAT teams from the South Salt Lake and West Valley
police departments and the Utah Department of Public Safety surrounded the motel. The man barricaded himself into his room about 5:30 p.m.
The SWAT teams were dispatched about 6 p.m. Within an hour, officers carrying rifles and wearing camouflage began creeping around the building. Police snipers set their sights on the man's room from nearby buildings.
Calling in a SWAT team is considered a standard move by a police department when a suspect has fired a gun, Babka said.
"It's not that a patrol officer couldn't handle the situation, but it's like calling in the experts," Babka said. "These guys are tactically trained, they practice daily on how to deal with these kinds of situations. It's cautious, yeah. We obviously weigh the costs and the worry, but we always try to go the cautious way."
Officers evacuated the motel's 20 guests and put them up in Central High School, about a block away. About 30 officers surrounded the motel and waited for the man in the cold and rainy weather.
Officers cut the power, gas and cable television to the man's room. Police negotiators made several attempts to reach the man by phone, but he never answered.
Negotiators later shined flood lights through his windows and tried to communicate using a loud speaker. The man yelled more profanities at officers and made more threats, Babka said. When negotiations failed, police decided to use tear gas to get the man out.
Investigators were waiting for the tear gas to clear Tuesday morning before entering the room to look for the gun, Babka said. The man didn't have it on him when he walked out.
The man has stayed at the motel for about a week, Kassahn said. He hadn't given anyone any trouble until Monday's confrontation.
"He seemed like a nice guy," said Gary Wilkins, another guest at the motel. "He always said `hi' to everyone."
Wilkins, 23, heard the man scream threats at the owner and the officers. "He told the police he wasn't going to leave the room," Wilkins said.
The man apparently has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1963, Babka added. He's been arrested several times in Utah and Arizona for crimes including illegal drug possession, assault and disorderly conduct.
South Salt Lake police arrested Ronald Borrego, 55, on suspicion of aggravated assault and disorderly conduct in connection to the incident. He was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail.
"We still don't know exactly what set him off," Babka said Tuesday morning. "We basically just put him in jail."