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Calif. cop died trying to save 6 hostages

Martinez officer shot by gunman holding 3 women, 3 kids in apartment, police say.

By Demian Bulwa
The San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO - Trying to save three women and three screaming children from an angry gunman, Martinez police officers Paul Starzyk and Ian Leong stood in a narrow hallway leading to a second-floor apartment on Saturday - and prepared to go in.
But before they could, police officials said, gunman Felix Sandoval poked a hand out from behind the door and opened fire, blindly, with a .38-caliber revolver. Starzyk, a 47-year-old sergeant, was wearing a bulletproof vest but was hit twice in the upper body.
Starzyk initially returned fire along with Leong, but he was fatally wounded.
Within minutes, officials said, Sandoval was shot dead by a third officer who responded to the apartment and unleashed a German shepherd. Once inside the apartment, authorities found a 44-year-old woman - the cousin of Sandoval's estranged wife - dead in the kitchen.
The account of the three deaths in Martinez emerged Sunday as relatives and friends of the two victims grieved.
Police and witnesses said Sandoval, a 49-year-old retired laborer with three children and a recent arrest for methamphetamine use, intended to attack his estranged wife - who last year filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against him.
He tried to find his wife at her business, Elegant Hair Design on Pacheco Boulevard, at about 11:30 a.m., police said. Margarita Sandoval hid in her shop, but Sandoval didn't know that - and he continued searching for her in the apartment building the couple owned behind the salon.
"What we had was trained officers determined to attempt to save lives, and they put their own lives in jeopardy," Martinez Police Chief Tom Simonetti said in an interview Sunday. "Unfortunately, it's a one-in-a-million shot, and the suspect managed to hit Sgt. Starzyk."
Colleagues of Starzyk - described as popular, funny and well-schooled in police tactics - were in mourning Sunday, with officers from neighboring jurisdictions covering their patrols.
Starzyk was the father of two young boys and a girl. The Chicago native was a banker until his early 30s, then joined the Martinez force as a volunteer reserve before his permanent hiring in 1995, Simonetti said.
He was a former leader of the agency's SWAT team, and he taught officers how to shoot weapons properly and how to deal with armed suspects. He was promoted in December to sergeant. On the side, he volunteered at a soup kitchen.
"I can't say enough good things about him," Simonetti said. "It's just hard for all of us here. We're having a tough time."

Fought for battered women
Friends of Sandoval's other apparent victim - Catalina Torres, a 44-year-old mother of two grown sons - said her death was bitterly ironic because she had worked as a volunteer advocate for battered women at Concord-based Stand! Against Domestic Violence.
"Catalina was an advocate for women's rights, and she died doing what she believed in," said Pam Center, a friend. "It's too ironic - it's terrible."
Torres was born in Mexico and grew up in Martinez, then attended Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and St. Mary's College in Moraga, friends said.
She returned to Diablo Valley College to tutor math students for more than 10 years, said Rachel Westlake, division dean of the Mathematics Department.
"She was very good at working with students that had a lot of anxiety with mathematics," said Westlake.
Sandoval, meanwhile, had been upset with his wife for accusing him of abuse, a friend said Sunday.
"He said, 'I want people to know the truth,' " said Mario Fiorella, his longtime friend and neighbor on a quiet Martinez cul-de-sac. "He said he wanted to take a lie detector test" to prove he wasn't a threat to his wife.
Last year, Margarita Sandoval petitioned to divorce her husband and obtained a restraining order against him that was to expire in 2010, Contra Costa County Superior Court records show. The couple was scheduled to return to court on Oct. 27 for a settlement conference in connection with their divorce.
Fiorella said Sandoval's divorce was complicated because the couple owned the building that houses the salon and a tattoo parlor, plus the apartment building and a nearby home. Sandoval talked about moving to Mexico, where he was born, after the divorce was finalized, Fiorella said.
Sandoval retired from contractor Galletti and Sons Inc. in Martinez a few years ago after suffering knee and back injuries, Fiorella said. He said Sandoval was a gun enthusiast with a small collection of firearms.
Sandoval's neighbor also said Sandoval was one of the kindest and most loving people he had ever met, and said he trusted him completely. He said his friend "must have snapped."

'This was her refuge'
But friends and relatives of Sandoval's wife, Margarita Sandoval, said she had become increasingly fearful of him.
"She was really scared," said a longtime friend who declined to give her name as she stood outside the salon. "She knew her husband could be dangerous, but this was her refuge."
Felix Sandoval seemed to be in good spirits Saturday morning, Fiorella said, playing pool with his teenage son in his garage at 9:30 a.m. and then attending his son's soccer game near downtown Martinez.
Soon after, though, the father of three drove his classic Ford Mustang convertible to his wife's small salon. The first 911 call came in at 11:35 a.m., Simonetti said.
Kellie Schramm, 43, of Martinez, said she was getting her hair cut when she heard glass breaking. Sandoval had used his bare hands and arms to bash through the salon's front window, bloodying himself in the process.
"Everybody started screaming," Schramm said in an interview Sunday.
She said Sandoval said, "Where is she?" while she and two other female customers tried to escape through a side door - which was locked. The other customers then managed to flee in another direction, but Schramm was stuck.
"I turned and he was standing next to me near the back door," Schramm said. "The gun was in his right hand."
Schramm said Sandoval's 19-year-old daughter, who works at the salon, was hysterically pleading with him to stop what he was doing. But it was no use, and Sandoval, wearing a hat, continued to ask, "Where is your mother?"
Schramm said she ran past Sandoval and into a small closet, roughly 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep.
"All I could think of was, 'He's going to shoot me,' " Schramm said. "It happened so fast.
"I heard the doorknob turn, and the door opened, and there he was," she said. "I said, 'Please don't shoot! Please don't shoot!' He just shook his head and shut the door. Luckily for me, he wanted someone specific."
Simonetti said Sandoval told his daughter that he was going to kill her mother and made comments about killing her and his other children - then climbed stairs to the apartment where Torres had fled. It appears he then kicked and shot the apartment door to get it open.
Leong, a K-9 officer, was the first to arrive at 11:37 a.m., Simonetti said. He heard gunfire. He left his dog in his car but grabbed his MP5 submachine gun.
Starzyk pulled up a minute later and grabbed his own AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Children's screams
After climbing the stairs to the apartment, Simonetti said, the officers heard children screaming inside.
"They decide that they have what we call an 'active shooter'-type situation," the chief said. "We have someone that's doing harm and we need to stop it."
All of a sudden, Simonetti said, a hand and revolver came from behind the door. Both Starzyk and Leong returned fire until the hand disappeared.
Struck twice, Starzyk fell, leaving Leong to try to drag him to safety, Simonetti said. But Sandoval fired again, the same way, and Leong returned fire again.
Soon, Simonetti said, another K-9 officer, Cpl. Glenn Walkup, arrived and pulled Starzyk out of the way. Then he sent his German shepherd, Enzo, into the apartment - where he found Sandoval and dragged his legs into the doorway.
"Walkup sees the suspect on his back with the gun pointed at the dog," Simonetti said. "He shoots him twice. The confrontation is over."
Leong made an "officer down" call at 11:40 a.m., Simonetti said. Officers reported a "code 4" - a secure scene - at 11:41 a.m. The whole encounter had lasted six minutes.
Inside the apartment, two women were found screaming hysterically and three small children were found in a closet, cowering, Simonetti said. He said one of the women said she witnessed Sandoval shoot Torres in the kitchen.
"It was not a pleasant thing," Simonetti said. "The reality is, based on their actions, there are five people alive today that might not be."
"What we had was trained officers determined to attempt to save lives, and they put their own lives in jeopardy." "

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