WORCESTER — A rookie state trooper acted within guidelines for the use of deadly force in fatally shooting a 43-year-old man who allegedly drove a stolen car toward him just after midnight Thursday, said authorities, based on their preliminary investigation.
The trooper, who graduated from the academy in March, fired a single bullet, killing Victor Davila of Worcester, the father of two daughters. The bullet traveled through the windshield of the 1997 Honda Accord, reported stolen from Leicester Tuesday night, and then through Davila’s chest, authorities said.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said the evidence gathered so far indicates that the trooper probably acted within guidelines, but an investigation will focus on the situation in the moments leading up to the shooting.
“There is no more monumental decision a police officer can make than the use of deadly force, and the department is completely dedicated to performing an intensive investigation,” said Procopio. “This goes to the heart of the public’s trust.”
The investigation will be conducted by Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. and the State Police. Early did not comment beyond a brief press release issued by his office.
Police are seeking a woman who was in the passenger’s seat of the Accord and jumped out of the car prior to the shooting. Procopio said she was in a relationship with Davila.
Davila’s former brother-in-law, Luis Carmona, told reporters that the family does not know how the shooting happened.
“He’s a great guy,” Carmona said. “He had some issues, but he put his life together, had another child. We don’t know what could have caused him to snap, if he did snap.’’
Hours after the shooting, dozens of residents stood near the site of the shooting, some protesting that the use of force by the trooper was excessive, others corroborating the police account of the incident.
“The man in the car, he drove at the police,” said Freddy Quintana, whose third-floor apartment overlooks the scene, a parking lot wedged between Irving and Chandler Streets. Quintana said the suspect’s vehicle appeared to drift backward as if it was in neutral, after the shot was fired.
But Pablo Ortiz, 45, said the car was traveling in reverse when the trooper fired. He said he was standing with his 19-year-old son, Juan Carmona, in front of a second-story window in a large tenement complex on Irving Street that also overlooks the scene.
“We heard the officer say ‘stop, stop,’ and then there was a gunshot,” Ortiz said. “But the police officer didn’t need to shoot because the car was already going backwards.”
Brian Trigiano said he saw the shooting from his fifth-floor window, which overlooks Irving Street. He said he first heard the sounds of cars slamming on their brakes, then heard gunfire.
“Everything took place right out my window,’’ he said. “I heard the [cars] stop and then the gunfire. The cop put him [Davila] down to the ground. . . . and cuffed him.’’
Trigiano said the trooper asked bystanders for the name of the street he was on, information he then provided to State Police dispatchers.
The trooper has not been identified, but Procopio said he is based at the Holden barracks. As is routine procedure in such cases, the trooper was placed on administrative leave.
Procopio said the trooper ran the vehicle’s license plates at 12:08 a.m, after being drawn to the car for “something suspicious.”
The trooper attempted to stop the car, but the Accord entered the parking lot and attempted to evade the trooper, who was driving his cruiser, Procopio said. Soon afterward, the trooper got out of the cruiser and yelled “stop” several times.
Procopio said preliminary evidence suggests the car continued toward the trooper, who was standing near a sign post at the Irving Street entrance to the parking lot. Ballistics evidence found on Irving Street and damage to the sign post from the car are indicators supporting the account, Procopio said.
At 12:12 a.m., the trooper called in the shooting and requested an ambulance, said Procopio.
Witnesses said Davila got out of the car and the trooper put him on the ground, face down, and handcuffed him.
Davila had more than 20 entries on his driving record dating back to 2003, including two driving-to-endanger citations and a refusal to obey police, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. His license was suspended several times, the Registry said.
Luis Carmona said Davila moved from the Springfield area to Worcester about a decade ago and had been on disability for the past eight years or so. Carmona said that Davila used to live with him and Carmona’s sister, but now is on his own. Davila has two daughters, the oldest of whom is 12, he said.
“All his family is in Puerto Rico; the only family he has here is us,’’ said Carmona. “He has a daughter, who lives with my sister. . . . We have to go break the news to her now.”