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Man fatally shot by police after standoff

Shortly after the incident concluded early Thursday, Powell Police Officer Matt McCaslin stands guard outside the Park Motel room where a 31-year-old man was fatally shot by police. The shot concluded a roughly four-hour standoff, in which the man reportedly claimed to have hostages and fired shots. Also pictured are Sgt. Alan Kent (center) and Officer Reece McLain (right). Authorities will not name the officer who fired the shot until a state investigation is complete.  Shortly after the incident concluded early Thursday, Powell Police Officer Matt McCaslin stands guard outside the Park Motel room where a 31-year-old man was fatally shot by police. The shot concluded a roughly four-hour standoff, in which the man reportedly claimed to have hostages and fired shots. Also pictured are Sgt. Alan Kent (center) and Officer Reece McLain (right). Authorities will not name the officer who fired the shot until a state investigation is complete. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

A 31-year-old man was fatally shot by Powell police on Thursday morning, ending a four-hour standoff in which the man reportedly claimed to have hostages and fired gunshots from a room at the Park Motel.

Nicholas Alan Ungar, a Chicago-area native who’s lived in Powell off-and-on for the past several years, was shot by an officer around 7:25 a.m. The shot from police came after Ungar exchanged fire with officers, said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt.

Ungar — whose identity was officially released Monday — was pronounced dead at Powell Valley Hospital at 8:07 a.m., said Park County Coroner Tim Power.

No one else, including a young woman who was in the East Second Street motel room with Ungar, was injured in the incident, Eckerdt said. The woman later told police that Ungar had been smoking methamphetamine prior to the standoff, and a “bindle” of what was suspected to be meth was found in the motel room, according to a search warrant returned by law enforcement.

As a part of the procedure in any shooting involving a police officer, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation is conducting a review of the incident that will be submitted to the Park County Attorney’s Office for review.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric said he hopes the report would be complete in four to six weeks, though his primary concern is that it be thorough.

Ungar showed up at the Park Motel around 2 a.m. Thursday, screaming and “freaking out” about some kind of scuffle with his father earlier in the night, said Bill Sales, a manager of the Park Motel.

Sales said Ungar and his father had problems, and sometimes the junior Ungar would spend the night at the motel.

Ungar left the office soon after entering, and Sales later heard what apparently were two gunshots, followed by another two shots about a half-hour later; the woman who was with Ungar later told police that he had stepped out of a room and fired two shots into the air, according to an affidavit from local DCI Special Agent Juliet Vibe used to later search the room.

A man staying in the room next door to where Ungar and the woman were holed up called 911 at 3:12 a.m. to report gunfire.

From what Ungar said at the motel office before shots were heard, Sales got the impression that Ungar was afraid police were looking for him. Ungar told police he’d cut his father’s face in self-defense, according to Vibe’s affidavit.

Police, unaware of the earlier incident with Ungar’s father, spoke with Ungar over a phone after they arrived at the motel.

“The subject self-reported that he had hostages in with him and was armed,” said Eckerdt. The Park County Sheriff’s Office was summoned for assistance, as was the Cody Police Department’s tactical team; DCI agents also were on scene.

Chief Eckerdt said police also spoke with another individual in the room with Ungar. According to Chris Swartwood, who described himself as Ungar’s best friend, the other individual was a young woman Ungar “hung out with a lot”; the woman — at Ungar’s direction, she said — told police there were three other female hostages, says Vibe’s affidavit.

Initially, Ungar told police that there were two hostages in the room, Eckerdt said.

After Ungar was shot and the incident over, it was discovered that the woman was the only other individual in the room. It was not clear from initial reports whether she was being held against her will or whether Ungar only told police she was a hostage.

“He f—ing kept telling them ... he didn’t want to hurt nobody, he wasn’t going to hurt nobody. He kept saying he just wanted his dad brought down there,” said Swartwood. He said he offered to speak with Ungar and calm him down, but police wouldn’t let him; the woman told Vibe that Ungar had been pacing back and forth and yelling during the standoff.

Vibe’s affidavit says Ungar told police he “would release the hostages in exchange for his father.”

Eckerdt said on-scene officers reported hearing gunfire at 4:33 a.m., 4:43 a.m., 6:56 a.m. and then at 7:24 a.m. — a minute before Ungar was shot by police.

Police have not publicly released a detailed statement about what exactly happened, pending the ongoing investigation.

The woman in Ungar’s room told agent Vibe that she and Ungar were peeking out the window when he told her to get down, according to the agent’s affidavit.

“(Nick Ungar) then fired a shot out the open window, through the screen,” wrote Vibe. “Approximately five seconds later, (the woman) heard another shot, then felt blood on her back.”

Swartwood said he never saw Ungar fire and accused police of lying.

“I seen the ... motel door, open to the room. Soon as I did, I seen the police fire,” he said.

Swartwood was at that point standing across the street near Lynn’s Quick Stop and could not see directly into the room.

Another guest at the motel, Necia Kacmar, was staying in a room directly opposite the one where Ungar was barricaded. Theoretically, Kacmar would have been able to see directly into Ungar’s room from her window, but wasn’t about to put herself in danger.

“I was too scared to go near the window,” she said. “I was like, ‘we’re staying away from the window.’”

Other than the woman in the room with Ungar, only police officers would have been in position to see whatever was happening in the room at the back of the motel.

“They only know the answer to that one,” said Sales, who police had moved to a room at the neighboring Americas Best Value Inn at the time of the shooting.

Ungar apparently used a Smith and Wesson .357 caliber Magnum during the incident, according to a receipt for items seized from Ungar’s room. Other ammunition and suspected marijuana also was seized, the receipt says.

Eckerdt said the man reportedly told police he also had an SKS assault rifle and a 9 mm handgun, but it appeared that claim — like the claim about having multiple hostages — was not true.

It also appeared that a shot had been fired from Ungar’s room through the wall into a neighboring room, says Vibe’s affidavit.

“I’m not condoning everything he (Ungar) did, don’t get me wrong,” said Swartwood, who described himself Thursday as having “my share of run-ins” with police. “I’m not saying that everything he did or the way he tried to express himself was the most appropriate way to go about it. I’m saying that it’s my friend and that he was trying to vent. If the motherf—er was just out to cause problems and kill, he would not have spent two hours on the phone with police.”

He said police should have taken more steps to resolve the situation with non-lethal force.

“What’s the sense in having non-lethal force or other options? There’s no need to shoot him in the head,” Swartwood said. He also said police never told Ungar to drop his weapon or used the bull horn they had on hand.

Vibe’s affidavit says she and Powell Police Officer Matt McCaslin were about to try negotiating with Ungar using the bullhorn when a gunshot and a scream were heard.

Recollections of when shots were heard differed between people the Tribune talked to. Swartwood and Sales, who were at the motel, each separately said they didn’t hear any shots between police’s arrival on scene and the final shots; Casey Weber, a bystander who watched the incident from the Maverik parking lot, said he heard a shot around 4 a.m.; a neighborhood resident said she thought she heard a shot around 6:30 a.m.

Kacmar heard what apparently were gunshots around 2 a.m.

“I thought it was a truck backfiring, and I really didn’t pay much attention to it,” Kacmar said, and she went back to sleep. She didn’t wake up to any other sounds.

“Pretty much the only thing that wakes me up is a baby crying,” she said, adding that the early shots were pretty quiet.

It was around 6 a.m. that police had Sales, Swartwood, and several others evacuate the Park Motel. An officer knocked on Kacmar’s door and said she needed to leave. However, when Kacmar told the officer she had her three young daughters in the room, he said he would find out what needed to be done.

Kacmar didn’t hear from police again until around 8:30 a.m., about an hour after the incident was over and after her friends reminded police she was there, she said.

“I just never heard back from them,” Kacmar said.

Eckerdt said police made a decision to leave the woman and her children in the motel room during the standoff.

“It was safer to have her and her kids in place behind that cinder block wall than trying to move her and her three kids to safety,” he said.

In between the knock from police and the end of the incident, Kacmar tried to keep things as normal as possible for the kids — fixing them breakfast and putting on “Rio,” their favorite movie.

While she was pretty nervous, wondering if she “was ever going to get out of there,” Kacmar’s 4-year-old and 2-year-old twins seemed to handle it OK.

“They knew something was going on, but they weren’t too upset,” she said.

Circuit Court records show that Ungar had some contact with local law enforcement over the past several years, mostly for traffic violations. He also was cited for breach of peace in late December.

In that Dec. 23 incident, Ungar reportedly became loud and profane after an employee at Powell’s First Bank of Wyoming declined to cash one of his checks. He was escorted out of the bank, but later returned with a friend and became upset again. Ungar was reported to have taken ornaments off a lobby Christmas tree and thrown them, scaring employees.

Ungar pleaded guilty to breach of peace on Jan. 17 and was given a suspended 30-day jail sentence and six months of unsupervised probation during which he could not go to the bank, and he was ordered to pay $390 in court fines and fees.

Court records show Ungar had a Illinois driver’s license and listed different Powell and Cody addresses in December and January.

Swartwood said people didn’t understand Ungar because he was from the city; Swartwood described Ungar as generous and loyal.

“If he said he was your friend, right or wrong, he was your friend,” Swartwood said. He said Ungar had a young daughter and he was in Powell to be with his terminally ill father.

It’s the second fatal shooting by police in Park County in four months. A Cody police officer shot 34-year-old Jared Christen on Oct. 11 after the heavily intoxicated man came out of his basement firing rounds in the direction of officers. That incident began as a domestic dispute and escalated to Christen firing 13 rounds from a rifle, including several bullets that narrowly missed officers. Two of the man’s children had been in the basement with him.

After reviewing the DCI report into that incident, County Attorney Skoric found the use of deadly force was “clearly and legally justified.”

The last Powell shooting involving an officer took place in May 2007 when a Powell police officer shot a man who, after firing a gun in his trailer, tried to flee. That shooting, which the man recovered from, was deemed by Skoric to be justified as well.

DCI finished its on-scene investigation and turned the Park Motel back over to its managers around 10 p.m. Thursday; in the late afternoon, Sales said it was frustrating to have the entire motel shut down — despite the incident taking place in one room — and his guests displaced with nowhere to go. He also was frustrated that the motel will have to clean up the damage from the incident — likely totaling thousands of dollars.

Kacmar, the guest, said the managers at the Park Motel had been very nice to her and her children, and she plans to return there while she waits for an apartment to be ready.

“I’m still staying there,” she said Sunday night. “I’m just here (at a friend’s house) to let everything calm down.”

The officer who fired the shot has been placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation is pending. That is standard procedure in such incidents.

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25 comments

  • posted by KConners

    February 22, 2012 1:42 am

    hooked on phonics, needs to take a long walk off a short cliff, your opinion doesnt matter nor does the one of grandma of the hood. these are his friends talking and connecting over the internet, let them say their peace and stay out of it. Good riddance??????!!!!! Really!!!???? who says things like that? what if that were your son or brother or dad?! then you wouldnt deam it right! Neither of you matter and me arguing online doesnt either. Talking to you too is probably about as entertaining as watching paint dry, your opinions are lifeless and cold, you mean nothing to me and with opinions like that im assuming your lives mean very little to the ones around you, leave it be! Let nick be missed and mourned by the ones who loved him, cause im sure that the highlight of your day is talking poorly on others and mad gabbin about peoples lives. WOAH! Now lets get a life people! Nick was an amazing person, so shut up at least I dont hide my opinions under a false name! I was there I saw what happened! Name Is Conners your more than welcome to talk to Me in person and I will gladly set you straight.

  • posted by Hooked on Phonics says what?

    February 20, 2012 11:31 pm

    Are we serious here? The police did what they felt needed to be done. They felt lives were in danger, they took care of that danger. End of story. As for Nick's "friends", we can't make sense of your misspellings and poor grammar. If you want to be taken seriously, learn to spell and properly use punctuation. If that doesn't work out for you, every computer has spell check. I suggest you use it. You are making yourself sound even more stupid.

  • posted by Grandmother in the neighborhood

    February 19, 2012 6:26 pm

    SOME people are messed up - The Police did exactly what they should have done! That man had plenty of time to put down the gun and talk... Good riddance.

  • posted by chigal

    February 17, 2012 6:16 pm

    Service is at Unitarian Church of Evanston Saturday, 2/18/12 at 2 pm. No trouble please this service is to mourn Nick only
    http://ucevanston.org/

  • posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    February 17, 2012 7:28 am

    $20 an hour...I would have loved to make $20 an hour in Powell,unfortunately most of us live in the real world with cheap wages and high prices.I should have left here when the gettin was good.

  • posted by the 1 he saved

    February 16, 2012 9:21 pm

    We lost a great friend a week today. His name will live on wit all of us. Nick was a respectful man to everyone. He always gave a helping hand out to his friends. The powell pd made a very wrong mistake in wat they did. The storys are bs. For the ones that where there that nite knw the truth bout wat went on. We will not let his name be disrespected. Nick we love and miss u so much. R.I.P. And knw Nick this wil end wit what u wanted in behalf of ur name.

  • posted by Chris

    February 16, 2012 8:10 pm

    Funny You claim to be his friends but you talk sh** on the one who has been his friend! I put my number on there for all his real Bro's from Chi to call, I never stole sh** from him of his pop. You call talking sh**, well I'm not some hype but I am his friend. I figured that as his friend you would want to know what really happened, regardless, get buck or contact me! Respectfully you can check on me, I'm not a liar and I may not have grown up with Nick but I was his friend, and always will be! I'm not from here or from chicago I'm from kansas city. But fact was, we are good friends!

  • posted by ROBERT UNGAR

    February 16, 2012 5:26 pm

    chris swartwood just called and said that nicks friends in chicago are threating him ,if this is true , please stop this is making it harder for me i just want to morn my son ,not deal with crank calls thank you

  • posted by Deeply Troubled

    February 16, 2012 3:04 pm

    this is a messed up situation and there are a whole lot of people out there who aren't being honest! I would appreciate Nicks friends from the Chi- to email me please so I can discuss some things with you that are troubling me deeply. And when I say his friends, I mean his REAL friends- none of which live in Wyoming!!! please email me at deeply_t@yahoo.com and identify who you are so I know exactly who I am talking to. Thank you

  • posted by Dave

    February 16, 2012 9:32 am

    Too all the local pot-stirring people. None of your were there. None of you were the ones at risk of being shot by rounds discharged. Also, get real, do you really think a Police Officer, Sheriff, Trooper or any Law Enforcement really want to have to use deadly force???? We go to your diners, your shops, your fairs, your church, your schools,our kids play with your kids,do you really real believe a Law Enforcement Officer wants to go through the SH*t storm that results with the civil litigation and the criminal investigation which is always the protocal /?? Are you willing to walk in the shoes of Law Enforcement for about $20.00 and hour??? When officers are placed in peril or in defense of another or the community in a life threatening situation the choices come in seconds and will be judge by those who were not there for years.........I feel for the suspects family, a very real tragic event, I pray for the officer and his family as they will wear this forever.

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