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State

'Crazy’ coincidence: Officer injured during Aurora shooting had helped gunman 20 years ago

AURORA – The February warehouse shooting in Aurora wasn’t the first time gunman Gary Martin and injured Aurora police officer James Zegar crossed paths at the scene of gunfire.

Martin opened fire at Henry Pratt Co., killing five coworkers and shooting Zegar and four other police officers last month. Nearly 20 years ago, Martin was injured in a shooting, and Zegar was one of the first officers on the scene to help, Aurora police Sgt. Bill Rowley said.

On a warm, humid night in August 1999, Zegar was called to a report of a shooting near a liquor store in the Northgate Shopping Center on Aurora’s near west side, according to police reports obtained Tuesday by the Beacon-News. Zegar found Martin in the parking lot of a Burger King across the street with a gunshot wound to the left side of his face.

Martin gave Zegar a brief account of what happened before Martin was taken to the hospital, police records show.

Later that night, after Martin was released from the hospital, he gave police more detail, according to police records. He said a friend went into the liquor store and seemed to have a short conversation with a man inside. When the man walked out of the store someone sitting in the same car as Martin, yelled, “Go go, he’s got a gun!” Martin had been trying to change the radio station when he looked up and saw a man get out of a car holding a silver gun. Martin ducked and tried to start the car as shots were fired, and he was hit in the cheek, he told police. Martin got out of the car, raced across the street to the Burger King parking lot and yelled for someone to call police.

Police closed the case about a month later without making an arrest.

Martin’s brother, Alex Robinson, said Tuesday he didn’t live in the area when his brother was shot and he didn’t recall anything about Zegar, but called the coincidence “crazy.”

He recalled the 1999 shooting as scary for the family. “I was shocked,” he said. “And then later angry, a little bit, because I didn’t know what was happening.”

Nearly 15 years later, Martin applied for and received a gun license even though a 1995 felony aggravated assault conviction made him ineligible for one, and he purchased a gun. The state police later revoked his gun license when it realized the error, but Martin used his gun in the February warehouse shooting.

Zegar, a 25-year veteran of the Aurora Police Department, was one of the officers Martin shot, police said. All five officers who were shot have been released from hospital care. Their injuries are not life-threatening, police have said. A sixth officer suffered minor injuries responding to the warehouse but unrelated to gunfire.

Rowley said it’s not uncommon for officers to cross paths with the same people both when they need assistance from police, and when they are on the other side of the law.

“We cross paths with people throughout – well in this case throughout our entire career,” he said. “And you don’t know what kind of effect you have on somebody, how your paths will cross in the future.”

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©2019 Chicago Tribune

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