UPDATED AT 7:15 P.M. WITH COMMENTS FROM FRIEND, MOTEL MANAGER
A 31-year-old man was fatally shot by Powell police early Thursday morning at the Park Motel. Police say the man held at least one individual hostage in a room for several hours and fired several rounds into the motel parking lot. The man was pronounced dead at Powell Valley Hospital following the incident, said Park County Coroner Tim Power.
Officials have not yet released the man’s name, but a friend identified him as Nick Ungar.
The Powell Police Department had been called to the motel by a 911 call at 3:12 a.m. Thursday, with a report of the sound of several shots having been fired over the past hour, said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt.
Officers contacted a man — reportedly Ungar — at the East Second Street motel.
“The subject self-reported that he had hostages in with him, that he was armed and some demands were made at that point in time," Eckerdt told reporters this morning.
According to Christopher Swartwood, a close friend of Ungar’s who was at the motel, Ungar was involved in a dispute with his father and wanted him to come to the motel.
“That’s all he kept wanting,” Swartwood said. Eckerdt didn't specify what the suspect demanded.
The Park County Sheriff’s Office and Cody Police Department's tactical team were called for assistance after Powell police responded. Eckerdt said he did not know how many shots were fired during the course of the confrontation, but said that in addition to those reported at 3:12 a.m., officers reported hearing gunfire at 4:33 a.m., 4:43 a.m. and 6:56 a.m.
“Shots were being fired from the building to the outside,” he said.
However, in separate interviews, Swartwood and another man at the Park Motel, co-manager Bill Sales, said they heard no shots between the first two that drew police and the shooting that killed Ungar.
Eckerdt said police confirmed that “there were hostages” with the suspect. Eckerdt said police were told there were between two and four hostages in the room, but early Thursday he wasn’t sure how many were actually found to have been there. Police briefly spoke with one during the standoff, he said.
Swartwood and Sales each said they believed only one person was in the room with Ungar, a woman that he knew.
Eckerdt said the suspect — reportedly Ungar — exchanged gunfire with police around 7:25 a.m., and was shot by a Powell officer. He didn't specify what factors or events played into that decision, citing the ongoing investigation, but said there were concerns, including the safety of all involved.
After being shot, the man was taken to Powell Valley Hospital by ambulance and pronounced dead, Power said. An autopsy will be conducted tomorrow.
Eckerdt said police had received information that the man used a .357 caliber handgun.
Swartwood, who was watching from across the street at that point, said Ungar opened the door and was shot. He disputed the police account that Ungar was firing at officers.
“He didn’t shoot at them,” Swartwood said. “I know that.”
He added that if Ungar had wanted to shoot police, he had a clear shot when they arrived hours earlier. Swartwood said police rejected his offers to try to calm Ungar down and said they should have resolved the situation without violence.
“There was so many other options they could have done,” he said.
No one else was injured in the incident, Eckerdt said, including whoever was in the room with the man and the responding officers. The chief said the man lived occasionally at the Park Motel and at other places in Powell. Swartwood said Ungar was from Chicago and has a young daughter.
Eckerdt indicated that the investigation will include an incident or incidents that happened away from from the motel. He offered few details on any part of the incident, noting that the criminal investigation and investigation into the officer-involved shooting are being handled by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).
“I can’t talk about anything specifically to do with the criminal investigation, because DCI’s doing it,” he said at the outset of the impromptu press conference at the police station.
Some people at the Park Motel and surrounding block were evacuated from the area at different points during the morning. Some at the motel were taken to the neighboring America’s Best Value Inn.
Speaking Thursday afternoon, Sales said it was frustrating to have the motel’s business closed down for an unknown amount of time for the investigation. Sales also said he’s been told the motel will be responsible for paying for the displaced guests as well as cleaning up the damage caused in the incident.
As a part of routine procedure in any officer-involved shooting, the officer who fired the shot will be put on paid leave while the DCI investigation is pending.
The Tribune will update this story as more information becomes available and have a more complete story in Tuesday’s newspaper.
Editor's note: This version corrects the spelling of Nick Ungar's last name.