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MIDVALE — A Unified police officer who had just been shot at multiple times by a fleeing suspect returned fire toward the man he believed was responsible Friday night.
But he ended up shooting an innocent bystander instead.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder confirmed Saturday that officer Cory Tsouras fired two rounds at a man he believed had just opened fire on him, striking the man twice and leaving him with injuries that were at one point considered life threatening, only to find out later it was the wrong person.
"We're told his condition has improved significantly," Winder said of the 25-year-old man who was shot. "Our deep sympathies go out to that family and to that individual."
The man's name was not immediately released. Winder said his office has been in constant contact with the man's family, and said his wife has been "extremely kind and understanding."
The dramatic incident began just before 8:30 p.m. Friday when an officer spotted a stolen vehicle parked near 32 W. 7200 South. The officer held surveillance on the vehicle until a man, 32-year-old Jeremy Michael Bowden, walked out of a nearby Internet cafe shop and toward the vehicle.
When the officer attempted to talk to Bowden, he ran, Winder said. Bowden ran west along 7200 South to 138 West. About that same time, Tsouras was just arriving at the scene in his patrol car as backup. He pulled into Rocket Express Car Wash, 150 W. 7200 South, to try and cut off Bowden.
"As the officer pulled into the car wash, the individual opened fire on our officer. Multiple rounds were fired into the moving patrol car. A round penetrated the windshield, penetrated the head rest directly behind our officer, struck the computer inside of the vehicle, and also a round entered our officer's bullet-proof vest directly in his chest plate," Winder said.
Winder said the shots were fired from close range. Whether Tsouras saw Bowden was unknown Saturday.
Tsouras continued driving to get out of harm's way, then turned his patrol car around to look for the gunman. That's when he spotted a man with an "extremely close" description of the Bowden, according to Winder, trying to get inside the car wash.
"It would seem that the individual observed the initial gunfire, had taken cover, and then had gone out of cover and moved towards the car wash in a likely effort to get out of harm's way," Winder said.
The sheriff did not know Saturday whether or not Tsouras said anything to the man before he fired his weapon.
The victim was shot in the arm and leg. Winder said officers immediately gave him first-aid, including a tourniquet to his leg.
"His condition has greatly improved," Winder said Saturday. "We hope and pray for full recovery,"
Winder called Tsouras a veteran officer who has been with Unified police for three years. The officer suffered minor injuries when shrapnel, possibly glass, hit his arm, and his chest was bruised where the bullet struck his vest.
Winder said he had not had a chance to talk to Tsouras yet as Salt Lake police are handling the shooting investigation. But he could only imagine what was going through the officer's mind after being ambushed by gunfire.
"I hope the public will recognize the dynamic nature of this situation. I don't want to underplay the severity of it, of an uninvolved individual being injured by our gunfire. The situation, however, was extremely dynamic," he said.
The man whom police were originally chasing — Bowden — was arrested in a nearby neighborhood. Police called it an "active pursuit" for about 10-15 minutes.
"We could see him jumping fences off and on and citizens pointing us in the right direction during that time," Unified Police Lt. Lex Bell said.
Bowden was caught as he ran through the Brighton Place Apartments, 135 W. Plum Tree Lane (6905 South). He "aggressively fought officers" who had to use a Taser to subdue him, police said. A firearm was recovered at the scene.
Bowden was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of attempted aggravated murder as well as for a number of drug and weapons-related charges. Winder called Bowden a "very violent offender" with a lengthy criminal history.
Salt Lake police had collected surveillance video from nearby businesses as part of their investigation into the shooting.