MONROE — Wendy Hawkinson was leaving the American Legion in Monroe with her aunt on Tuesday when she became an unwitting witness to the violent end of a police chase in which the suspect killed himself while at gunpoint with pursuing officers.
“It was a really quiet afternoon,” she said, noting that the pair were leaving The Zilmer-Riley American Legion Post 84, 1627 12th Avenue, where they had been volunteering by serving food for a funeral reception.
The women walked out just in time to see a car speeding down the street, running a pair of stop signs. That was very odd, she thought. Next, Hawkinson said she saw police cars race up immediately after and when the cops hesitated briefly — not knowing which way the fleeing car went — she pointed them in the direction of an area business.
Seconds later, a man jumped out of a silver sedan and was immediately confronted by police, who had their own sidearms drawn, screaming for the man to drop his gun. In that instant, Hawkinson said, the suspect raised the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
The officers never fired a shot, she said.
“I could see the big puff of smoke where he had shot himself,” she said. “It all happened so fast. You just don’t imagine you are going to see something like that.”
A Rock County Sheriff’s Office press release stated the incident began at 1:43 p.m. at Dollar General, 507 N Main Street, Orfordville.
In a press release, the Green County Sheriff’s Office said county law enforcement agencies were alerted to that armed robbery just before 2:10 p.m.
Based on video surveillance, the suspect was described as a larger white male, approximately 6’ 2” tall, wearing a black zip-up hoodie, neon yellow shirt, blue jeans, white tennis shoes and wearing sunglasses and a facemask. The suspect displayed a black handgun and pointed it at the cashier, and then fled in a silver four-door sedan. There were no reported injuries resulting from the armed robbery incident.
The suspect, later identified as 49-year-old Casey J. Austin of Janesville, pulled a gun on the store clerk, demanded money, and fled, beginning a chase that ended in front of Hawkinson and Anne Bauman a short time later.
Monroe Police picked up the chase just before 2:40 p.m. near the intersection of Wis. 69 and Wis. 11 in the city. When the officer attempted to stop the suspect vehicle near Pizza Hut, the suspect fled southbound, and officers pursued the vehicle through the city. Ultimately, the vehicle pulled into a business parking lot located along 17th Street and 12th Avenue.
“Upon stopping, the driver reportedly exited the vehicle, pointed a handgun in the direction of Monroe Police Officers and then turned the handgun on himself,” the Green County Sheriff’s office said in a statement. “The suspect then reportedly shot himself and, despite the efforts of law enforcement and EMS, was pronounced dead at the scene.”
According Green County Sheriff Jeff Skatrud, Monroe Police requested that his office conduct the death investigation, which is ongoing, according to the sheriff’s office.
Skatrud on Thursday said his office is continuing the probe and would likely have more information available to the public on Friday, which is after Monroe Times’ deadline for press. Still, he added that early information likely confirms the role Monroe officers played in the fatal incident.
“We are confident they weren’t involved” in the shooting, Skatrud said.
Skatrud said one of the big questions is whether the suspect came to Monroe for a reason, or was just randomly fleeing the Orfordville area and ended up here.
“That part we just don’t know about yet,” he said.
Meanwhile, reaction to the incident was swift on social media, where some in Orfordville apparently questioned why nearby Parkview Elementary wasn’t locked down after the store robbery.
“…We acted immediately and contacted the Rock County dispatch for a status update to determine if we should activate our emergency procedures,” Wayne Anderson, interim superintendent of the Parkview District, wrote in a social media post after the incident.
“The office should have a scanner and know when stuff like this happens to lock down and protect our kids,” said one parent, posting on Facebook.
While the situation in Monroe was unfolding on 17th Street, Monroe Middle School, just six blocks away, went into a soft lockdown from 2:45-3 p.m.
Principal Matt Brown later sent out an email to parents at 3:29 p.m. explaining the situation.
“At approximately 2:45 p.m., I put our building in a soft lockdown,” Brown said. “This was based on a police safety issue in the community in proximity to MMS. I made a PA announcement to make all students and staff aware of the soft lockdown.”
Brown met with the School Liaison Officer, who assured him the threat of the situation was clear, and MMS could lift the soft lockdown.
Brown reiterated to parents that the situation could have triggered strong emotions in students, and for family and guardians to be available for support.
“This was not a drill and unplanned, so your child may be experiencing some mixed emotions and feelings tied to my announcement. Please process the situation with your children and reach out to me if I can be of any assistance in processing with your child tomorrow,” Brown said.
-Adam Krebs contributed to this report