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Man shot by police at Rockford-area Walmart led officers on high-speed chase

Police tape

ROCKTON — A 25-year-old man shot Thursday by a Rockton police officer in a Walmart parking lot allegedly tried to run over the officer in an alleged shoplifting incident.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley issued a news release Friday providing details about the shooting.

Hanley said at about 7:40 pm Thursday, Rockton Police Sgt. Ben Heintz was flagged down by a shopper outside of the Walmart at 4781 E. Rockton Road to report a shoplifting incident. The officer located a female suspect and her vehicle in the store’s parking lot.

More:Man shot by police at Rockford-area Walmart, task force investigating

The suspect, Melody Gackstatter, reportedly was unloading a cart full of merchandise into a vehicle. The vehicle was occupied by Austin K. Levitski, 25, who was sitting in the front passenger seat.

Heintz approached the vehicle and ordered both suspects to exit the vehicle. However, Hanley said Levitski moved over to the driver’s seat and started driving while Heintz was standing in front of the vehicle.

As the vehicle accelerated, Heintz sidestepped it to avoid being hit and fired off three rounds at the vehicle, Hanley said.

The vehicle left the parking lot and continued east on Rockton Road and then south on Illinois 251. Heintz pursued the vehicle and was joined by officers from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s and Roscoe police departments. The vehicle continued south on Illinois at 251 allegedly at speeds over 100 mph, according to Hanley.

The vehicle then turned near Forest Hills Road and eventually crashed into a garage near 11203 Dorothea Ave. at Machesney Park.

Hanley said Levitski ran from the scene before being tazed by officers. Levitski and Gackstatter were both taken into custody shortly after the crash.

Levitski was found to have been shot in the arm and was taken to the hospital.

Hanley said Levitski also was found to have three active warrants for theft as well as being wanted on an Illinois Department of Corrections warrant out of Wisconsin.

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Hanley said Gackstatter was not injured and as of Friday evening had not been charged.

At the request of Rockton Police Chief Matt Hollinger, the Winnebago Boone County Integrity Task Force arrived on scene and took over the investigation. Rockton Police Department officers will not participate in the investigation.

Heintz has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Hanley said task force investigators are in the early stages of the investigation as they are interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence from the scene, and obtaining video evidence such as the officer’s body camera and dashboard camera footage.

Hanley said video footage is not being released at this time.

Hanley also said all information that has been gathered is preliminary, and the investigation is ongoing and may evolve as investigators interview witnesses, review physical and electronic records, and analyze forensic evidence.

Chris Green: 815-987-1241; [email protected]; @chrisfgreen

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Man shot at Rockford-area Walmart Officer Ben Heintz Austin Levitski

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