A 64-year-old woman was treated and released Friday night after a carjacker punched her in the face and knocked her down in a north Spokane mall parking lot.
An off-duty county jailer who saw the attack fired his gun at the man as he sped away in the woman’s car. The bullet hit the car’s left side but police do not believe the hijacker was hurt.
The silver Chrysler New Yorker was found abandoned several hours later at a gas station at Francis and Crestline.
The victim, whose name was not made public, suffered a two-inch cut on her cheek and several blows to the head. Her cheekbone may have been fractured in the assault, police said.
“She was hit pretty hard,” Lt. Glenn Winkey said. “He got her good.”
Witnesses and police said the woman came out of the Franklin Park Mall on North Division about 10:30 a.m. and saw a man prowling around her car, parked in the lot behind Montgomery Ward.
She tried to get inside the car, but the man hit her several times and she fell, witnesses said. As she stumbled back toward the mall entrance, the man peeled away in her car.
John Heffelfinger, a Spokane County Jail corrections officer, saw the assault and fired one shot at the car as it pulled away.
“He just popped off one round and then ran over to the lady to see if she was OK,” said Tommy Andersen, who was leaving the mall when he saw the woman running toward him. “He looked like he knew what he was doing. I thought he was a cop.”
Andersen’s girlfriend, Jodi Gilbert, said she took one look at the bloodied woman and yelled for someone to call for help.
“She was crying,” Gilbert said.
Police towed the car downtown, searched it and took fingerprints. They have no suspects.
The carjacker did not brandish a gun and didn’t say he had a weapon, police said. He was described as black, in his early 20s, about 6 feet tall and 190 pounds. He wore dark clothes and had a thin mustache and short hair.
Police said Heffelfinger has a gun-carry permit, but is not a commissioned law enforcement officer. He was acting as a private citizen when he fired at the car, police Capt. Chuck Bown said.
“He was not acting under the scope of his employment,” Bown said.
Heffelfinger remained at the scene to answer officers’ questions. He puffed on a cigarette and drifted around the parking lot, joking occasionally with police.
Bown said detectives will investigate the shooting and talk with prosecutors to determine whether the jailer acted appropriately.
That process is the same for any shooting involving a citizen, he said.
Lt. Jerry Oien, who oversees the Major Crimes Unit, said evidence so far shows the jailer did nothing wrong.
“He was acting in defense of this woman,” Oien said. “There’s nothing to indicate wrongdoing on his part.”
Still, both he and Bown said they don’t recommend that citizens fire guns if confronted with similar situations.
“It’s not wise,” Bown said.
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