Sheriff puts up $10K reward, cops search for evidence in death of Gary officer
Post-Tribune staff report July 9, 2014 12:57PM
State Police enter a house on the 2600 block of Van Buren where unknown evidence was found and the CSI team was called in to investigate in Gary on July 9, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 10, 2014 2:01AM
GARY — Sheriff John Buncich, whose office is running the investigation into the shooting death Sunday of a Gary police officer, on Wednesday offered a $10,000 reward in the case.
A news release from Buncich offered the reward for “any information leading to the conviction of suspect(s)” in the shooting death of Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield.
During an appearance Tuesday with Gov. Mike Pence in Gary, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she was “fairly confident” that a man being held since Sunday night in the Lake County Jail was the person responsible for Westerfield’s death.
Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram Sr. said he wasn’t made aware of the reward until Buncich made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.
“County has been handling the case, so other than bullet points, we aren’t being made aware of how they’re handling it. And I don’t want to speculate,” Ingram said.
Earlier Wednesday, 130 law enforcement officers and volunteers turned out to search for evidence in the death of Westerfield, who was found mortally wounded in his squad car by a passer-by before 6 a.m. Sunday on 26th Avenue near Van Buren Place. Local, state and federal officers cleared brush, felled trees and used metal detectors in their search for evidence.
Crime scene investigators were called to a home in the 2600 block of Van Buren Place and removed potential evidence, police said.
Westerfield, a 19-year veteran and father of four daughters, died on his 47th birthday.
Lake County police have a person of interest in custody on an unrelated case for a probation revocation.
“We are leaving no stone unturned, literally,” Lake County police Cmdr. Guy Mikulich told the group, which assembled about 10 a.m. in the parking lot at nearby Roosevelt High School before traveling about one block to begin cutting through weed-choked yards in the neighborhood.
Front loaders, dump trucks and other heavy equipment was pressed into service as officers from agencies throughout Lake and Porter counties cleared the area so a more thorough search could be conducted. About 20 officers from various departments searched the same area on Monday.
On Tuesday, police helicopters checked rooftops and officers searched storm drains for possible evidence.
Officers also demolished a rickety, abandoned garage in the 2600 block of Van Buren Street.
James Joyner, a resident of the block since 1945, watched the progress from his well-tended yard as the officers cut branches and tall weeds and piled rubbish in the alley behind his home.
“I’m glad to see what they’re doing but I wish it was for a different reason,” said Joyner, 79.
Officers carefully moved branches of Joyner’s hibiscus bushes and tiger lilies as part of the methodical search.
Members of Illiana Search and Rescue sent out teams of volunteers to aid the officers. Director Mark R. Price, a former bailiff in Lake County criminal court, said his teams are rarely involved in law enforcement searches but are willing to help in any way possible. Many of the volunteers took a day off work to assist.
Contributing: Ruth Ann Krause, Michelle L. Quinn