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Officers Were Trapped In Cop-Killer's Basement During Shooting

Officers Were Trapped In Cop-Killer's Basement During Shooting

FDL Reporter via YellowBrix

March 23, 2011

FOND DU LAC, WI – In the face of tragic circumstances, law enforcement heroes made their mark Sunday morning on Fond du Lac’s west side.

“Uniforms had no color Sunday,” said Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink, referring to the teamwork that took place during a six-hour standoff with James. M. Cruckson, 30, at 24 S. Lincoln Ave.

Cruckson fired on officers at 6:30 a.m. from a room inside his home. He was found dead in the home shortly before noon.

Capt. Jon Gutzmann, Officer Ryan Williams and Officer Becky Kollmann arrived at the scene to investigate an alleged sexual assault involving Cruckson and his girlfriend. Fond du Lac Police Capt. Steve Klein said there were concerns about a 6-year-old girl reported to be in the home. The girl was later located at a nearby residence.

Williams was shot while he was inside Cruckson’s home with a high-powered rifle, said Klein.

Fond du Lac Police Department Officer Zach Schultz, who was injured from a fall inside the home, was able to pull Williams outside where Fond du Lac Police Lt. Jason Laridaen was able to pull him away from the house.

Kollmann, Gutzmann and Schultz were pinned down inside the home with Cruckson’s sister as bullets began to fly, said Klein.

Williams was shot once in the left shoulder and once in the right chest, just below the collarbone, according to Dr. Raymond Georgen, medical director of trauma at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah.

Officer Craig Birkholz responded to the scene after he heard the report of shots fired.

Birkholz was struck in his upper chest in an area not covered by a bulletproof vest and died at the scene.

Klein and David Spakowicz of the Department of Criminal Investigation declined to go into detail about the shootings or preliminary findings.

“Unfortunately, while he (Birkholz) was responding to assist his fellow officers he was struck with a fatal round,” Klein said. “I can’t tell you how difficult that is for fellow officers on the scene.”

At 6:40 a.m., Capt. Dean Will of the Sheriff’s Department contacted Sheriff Fink about the shooting and the request for the SWAT team’s armored vehicle.

Fink arrived at Lincoln Avenue as gunfire erupted again. He met with Fond du Lac Police Chief Tony Barthuly and Deputy Chief Kevin Lemke. Fink then took over as tactical leader of SWAT team members at the scene as Barthuly dealt with families of the wounded officers.

Laridaen told Fink that Williams was removed from the scene.

“Our first priority was getting Birkholz to the ambulance,” Fink said. “… We had eyes on Birkholz from the time I was there.”

Four deputies retrieved Birkholz.

“I watched Birkholz very closely for any movement from the time I got there to the time we could get close enough to get him,” Fink said.

Lt. Aaron Goldstein was with Birkholz in the ambulance.

Officers’ attention then turned to getting Cruckson’s sister and the police officers out of the home.

“Gutzmann and Kollmann were able to take up tactical positions within the residence,” said Klein, who added the two had handguns and at least one long gun. “At that point, with the amount of gunfire, they weren’t able to safely exit the residence.”

He said police believe Cruckson knew the officers were in the residence.

“Gutzmann did a good job keeping themselves in a safe tactical position and keeping him (Cruckson) away from them,” Klein added.

Sheriff’s SWAT team members drove an armored vehicle close to the home for the dramatic rescue. As they drove away, Gutzmann fire toward the house.

Fink asked Gutzmann to stay at the scene since he was familiar with the layout of the inside of the house.

“He wanted to stay,” Fink recalled. “I would stand and fight with Jon Gutzmann any day.”

Klein added, “Being a former SWAT commander himself, Gutzmann’s tactics are very sound. He was a good resource for the Sheriff’s Department.”

After launching tear gas into the home, Gutzmann accompanied Sheriff’s Department SWAT team members into the home where they found Cruckson dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said Fink.

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