WEST MEMPHIS, Ark - Two West Memphis Police officers were killed and two other law enforcement officers, including Crittenden County Sheriff Dick Busby, were shot today after two suspects were pulled over on a drug interdiction stop around noon on Interstate 40 at Airport Road.
Both suspects were later killed in a shootout.
West Memphis officers Brandon Paudert, 39, son of West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert, was killed, as was the chief’s nephew, officer Bill Evans, after they stopped a white Plymouth Voyager with Ohio license plates. Paudert died on the scene. Evans was airlifted to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis where he died.
After a massive manhunt, which included multiple law enforcement agencies, put the small city on a virtual lock down, the van was spotted at the Walmart Supercenter in West Memphis shortly after 1 p.m.
While trying to apprehend the suspects in the parking lot, Busby, 71, and Chief W.A. Wren, who is over patrol in the sheriff’s department, were both wounded in a shootout and airlifted to The Med.
At 2:30 p.m., Busby, who was shot in the shoulder, was still being examined by doctors, while Wren was in surgery at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. A source said Wren had been shot in the stomach. At the same time, several family members of the wounded were rushed into the hospital, escorted by officers.
Wren was chief of police in West Memphis immediately before Paudert.
The two suspects were shot dead in the parking lot.
More than three dozen law enforcement officers swarmed the van with weapons drawn after the shootout. One of the suspect’s bodies could be seen in the window of the van.
Iesha Person, 19, arrived at about 1:20 to start her shift at Walmart when other employees ran out the door and told her to turn around.
“I was hearing gunshots,” she said. “They were telling me to turn around. So I turned my tail around.”
Memphis police and Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies assisted in the manhunt. Deputies and police officers were posted at exits along the I-40 in Memphis in case the suspects had made it across the Mississippi River.
In West Memphis, cars were stopped and searched on I-40 in case the suspects abandoned their van and were in another vehicle. Law enforcement officers holding shotguns were at the exits to the interstate.
Busby’s friend and fishing buddy, Max Herron, standing by at The Med, said he and the sheriff had planned to go fishing today at Heber Springs, Ark., but had delayed the trip until Friday because of rain.
Herron said Busby is married with two daughters, a son and several grandchildren.
On Tuesday, West Memphis Assistant Police Chief Mike Allen was elected to replace Busby as sheriff. Busby was scheduled to retire in January.
At a press conference outside The Med, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin spoke about the loss of officers’ lives.
“From an emotional standpoint of all law enforcement, this breaks the heart of every agency around,” he said. “I’ve known Chief Paudert for 36 years. It’s unbelievable the hurt and pain this has caused his family.”
The West Memphis Police Department web site shows only one police officer in its section of fallen officers.
Officer Michael Waters, 24, was killed during a pursuit on Sept. 11, 2003. Waters was thrown from his patrol car when it struck a concrete barricade, and another officer in the pursuit, ran over Waters as he lay on the pavement.
Brandon Paudert had been assigned to the drug interdiction unit.
West Memphis Police restarted their drug interdiction program six to eight months ago following a request from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said Ark. Rep. Keith M. Ingram, D-West Memphis.
Earlier this year, officers found a large amount of presumed drug money — roughly $1.5 million, Ingram said.
But an Arkansas law says local police agencies that seize large amounts of drug money could only keep $250,000 of it and must give the rest to the state government, Ingram said.
The law upset Police Chief Paudert, Ingram said.
“These people are so well-armed, they outgun the police forces,” Ingram said. “And (Paudert) was worried he was going to get somebody hurt. And to cap this for local agencies who were willing to take this challenge was ludicrous. And I agreed with him.”
Ingram said he had planned to bring up the matter in the Arkansas legislature.
Ingram said he knew all the officers who were shot and visited Paudert today to console him on the death of his son.
“You just can’t put into words some tragedy like this. I guess you thank God that we’ve got police officers that put their lives on the line for citizens.”
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe issued a statement that said, "Just last week, ceremonies across Arkansas were held to remember fallen law-enforcement officers and remind us of the dangers they face on a daily basis. That reminder was tragically reinforced today in Crittenden County. Sergeant Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans died upholding their duty to serve and protect the residents of West Memphis. I have reached out to express my condolences to the entire West Memphis Police Department, including Sergeant Paudert’s father, Chief Bob Paudert."
“Our thoughts and prayers are also with Crittenden County Sheriff Dick Busby and Chief Deputy W.A. Wren, who both continue to fight for their lives at a Memphis hospital.”
“This is a loss shared by all Arkansans.”
Article by Cindy Wolff. Staff reporters Kristina Goetz, Jody Callahan, Clay Bailey and Daniel Connolly contributed to this story. Photo by Alan Spearman.
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