Police tried to coax a Nampa man into surrendering after he invaded this second-floor apartment on Ontario’s Southeast Sixth Avenue on Thursday, Nov. 29. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)
ONTARIO – A chaotic night in Ontario last week left one man mortally wounded, police hunting his accomplice, and a neighborhood disrupted until early morning hours by police sirens, gunfire and a standoff.
The episode began with a sheriff’s deputy pulling over a car for a minor traffic infraction. By the time it was over nearly five hours later, every police officer on duty had responded to reports of gunshots and a man barricading himself in an apartment he had invaded.
The man at the center of it all, identified by authorities as 19-year-old Heriberto “Eddie” Ortega of Nampa, died in a Boise hospital Monday, the victim of what authorities said was a self-inflicted gunshot.
Police were still seeking Irene Enedelia Pena, 32, of Ontario, who authorities said was driving the car that was stopped and later took off in the confusion.
This account of what happened that night was produced through interviews with police and witnesses and through access to public records.
Malheur County sheriff’s deputy Danielle Llamas had no idea who was in the car when she flipped on her overhead lights because she had seen a minor traffic violation.
Just about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the car rolled to a stop on Southeast 9th Avenue, not far from one of Ontario’s grittiest industrial sections and bordering the poorest neighborhood in the entire county.
Pena was behind the wheel, a freshly convicted felon.
Just two weeks earlier, she pleaded guilty in Malheur County Circuit Court for stealing a Dodge pickup. She faced up to a five-year sentence but was sentenced to just 10 days in jail and put on probation.
For Pena, who has lived at various times in Ontario and Nyssa, the court appearance on Nov. 14 was the last for a string of criminal charges dating back more than a decade. She was convicted in Idaho of burglary in 2007 and Malheur County court records show more recent convictions for forgery and first-degree theft.
Seated beside her was Ortega. According to law enforcement officials, he was a wanted man at the time. Idaho authorities wanted him arrested for escape, related to a criminal case out of Nampa.
Idaho court records show Ortega has faced a string of charges as juvenile, dating back to at least 2010, when he was 10.
In 2016, he was charged with seven felonies in Nampa, including aggravated assault, firing a weapon at a building, and committing a gang-related felony near a school. In November 2016, he pleaded guilty to shooting and acting on behalf of a gang and was put into the custody of the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections. Available court records show he was sentenced to seven years custody. In September, a judge approved moving Ortega to a community facility but he left Nov. 4. A warrant for escape was issued.
How Pena and Ortega knew each other couldn’t be immediately established.
After nearly 10 minutes on the scene, something about the pair’s movements in the car troubled Llamas, who backed away and asked dispatch to send her other officers. Two Ontario Police Department patrolmen, Jared Cutler and Richard Fraser, responded in separate cars, parking slightly behind the deputy.
One of the officers, Fraser, walked up to the front passenger door to talk to Ortega. The door opened and Ortega came out, pointing a .22-caliber pistol at Fraser. The officer backed away from the car, firing three rounds. It’s unclear whether Ortega fired as well.
Whatever the sequence, Ortega fled the car on foot and fled into the impoverished neighborhood, the two city police officers chasing him on foot and the sheriff’s deputy using her patrol car to catch up with him.
As they gave chase, Pena started up her car and drove off into the night.
It was nearly an hour later and three blocks away that Jonathan Martinez and his girlfriend, who asked not to be identified, were cooking eggs for a late dinner. Flashing of police lights on the street below caught their attention. They live on the second floor of a house on Southeast Sixth Avenue that’s been converted into two apartments.
“The cops weren’t moving,” Martinez said. “They were just standing there, parked and all around the block. They had their flashlights out and they were moving it in circles.”
Martinez responded to a pounding on their front door, believing it was the police.
“I open it and as that happens, he tries to come in with a gun,” Martinez said.
The intruder didn’t say a word, put stepped into their studio apartment.
“He just came in with a blank look, like super focused on whatever he’s thinking about,” Martinez said.
Sean McCombs, who lives nearby, said he initially saw two police cars and then “all of a sudden, one, two, three, four more are showing up like one after the other.”
Martinez’s girlfriend distracted the gunman long enough for the couple to bolt out the door. They told police about the man in their apartment.
Soon, the streets around the home were clogged with police. Besides Ontario police and sheriff’s deputies, officers from the Nyssa Police Department and Oregon State Police arrived, as did Ontario fire and Treasure Valley Paramedics crews.
Officers went door-to-door, rousing tenants in apartments and homes to get out.
In the upstairs apartment, Ortega apparently watched the gathering police force. He peered out the open window from time to time, pointing his .22-caliber pistol toward the street.
At 11:16 p.m., an Oregon State Police trooper who hasn’t been identified publicly fired once at Ortega through the apartment window but the gunman flinched and the round struck and killed the couple’s cat, Kitana.
Martinez said the police asked whether there was a phone in their apartment. The girlfriend, he said, had left her cell phone behind. The officer, Oregon State Police Detective Damien Acosta, called.
Ortega answered. By now, it was 11:30 p.m. – two hours after the original traffic stop.
“The police negotiator was just asking him about normal stuff,” Martinez said. He said the officer asked “What can we do for you? Do you have a family? If there’s anything we can do for you, let us know.”
Ortega responded, “Just come in now so I could just get this over with….I’m gonna shoot myself when you come in.”
“No, you don’t wanna do that,” Acosta said. “We want to help.”
During the standoff, Ortega fired the gun inside the apartment. One round, according to Martinez, went through the girlfriend’s purse and hit the water heater.
Ortega explained to Acosta by phone that one shot, at just after 2 a.m., was an accident as he was climbing near a window. He apparently had tried to escape out the bathroom window, away from the massed police.
Just six minutes later, Acosta and other officers heard another gunshot.
The Malheur County Sheriff’s Office tactical team stepped into the apartment, finding Ortega seriously wounded after apparently shooting himself in the head
Medics took Ortega to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario and later transferred him to a Boise hospital. His family gathered in vigil.
With the night nearly gone, authorities set to work investigating what had happened. State Police took on the initial traffic stop and shooting there while the sheriff’s office investigated what happened at the apartment. The officers who fired were all placed on paid administrative leave, routine when weapons are discharged.
Through the neighborhood, residents returned to their homes.
Martinez and his girlfriend got back to their home at about 6 a.m.
“There was blood everywhere – blood on the walls, bed, the ground, our sheets, our pillows,” Martinez said.
Reporter Jayme Fraser contributed to this report
Pat Caldwell: 541-473-3377 or [email protected]
Kristine de Leon: 541-473-3377 or [email protected]