Massachusetts murder suspect caught in Westport after manhunt
A man wanted in connection with a Massachusetts homicide was captured Wednesday by Westport police after a dramatic manhunt through Fairfield and Westport lasting more than four hours by police from three departments.
Thomas Gardner, 35, of New Bedford, Mass., was taken into custody at the Organic Market on Post Road East at 4:40 p.m.
Gardner was apprehended following a brief struggle outside the market after an employee saw him and called 911.
Westport police turned Gardner over to Fairfield police, who had begun pursuit of the suspect hours earlier, and he is to be arraigned Thursday at state Superior Court in Bridgeport on a fugitive from justice warrant.
Gardner is sought in connection with a homicide investigation in New Bedford where the body of man was found Wednesday in a home where Gardner was staying, the New Bedford District Attorney's office said.
According to SouthCoastToday.com, the dead man, Mike Duarte, 36, had been reported missing since Saturday when he went to have a look at the home where Gardner was staying, which is for sale. Although Duarte's girlfriend said he was planning to buy a home, reports are unclear if Duarte, a union carpenter, may have also been looking to do repairs on the property.
Duarte's longtime girlfriend and mother of his two children Sarah Varley said she expected to have coffee with Duarte on Saturday morning after he looked at the house, SouthCoastToday reported.
"He just never came home. He never made it to Dunkin' Donuts either," said Varley, who filed a missing persons report with New Bedford police Saturday night.
Varley said Duarte's cell phone and credit cards had not been used since 9:30 a.m. Saturday, according to SouthCoastToday.
Westport Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas said a man was found dead Wednesday afternoon in New Bedford, and police there confirmed Gardner is sought as a suspect in the man's murder.
Police in Fairfield, Westport and Norwalk had been searching for Gardner since an early-afternoon chase began in Fairfield and continued onto Post Road East in Westport, with police pursuing a stolen Honda Civic driven by Gardner at more than 100 mph.
Later in the day, after the car crashed near Winslow Park in downtown Westport, police were dispatched to the East Norwalk, Saugatuck, Fairfield and Southport train stations after reports that Gardner had been seen hiding near the tracks.
As police searched for the fleeing Gardner after the crash, Westport police urged residents to lock their doors and warned Gardner was dangerous. A police command post was set up in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot near Post Road East and Compo Road South, not far from the crash site.
Koskinas said police dogs lost Gardner's scent at 2:30 p.m. and police had "absolutely no contact" with Gardner for several hours.
"Our big concern right now is that the kids at the preschools and at the YMCA in the area get home safely," Koskinas said at the time. "We're focusing our search within a half-mile radius of (the command post) and that's only because he might be bunkered down here because of the police presence. We're also responding to any additional reports that come in."
Gardner has a past misdemeanor and felony charge in Massachusetts.
"He becomes very violent when confronted," Koskinas said.
The earlier chase through Fairfield and Westport was triggered when the Honda driven by Gardner was spotted by a Fairfield police officer around 11:30 a.m.
The officer waited for backup to arrive, then began a pursuit, following Gardner onto Interstate 95 at high speed. ending up on Westport roads. Westport police joined in the search as Gardner tore down the Sherwood Island Connector and onto Post Road East, traveling at 90 mph, police said. He turned onto Hillspoint Road and drove through the Compo Beach area before turning onto Compo Beach Road South and returning to Post Road East, clipping a parked Bentley in the process, police said. The Bentley's driver was not injured.
Gardner pulled into the parking lot of the Westport Country Playhouse and the Playhouse Condominiums, where he crashed into a wooded area and bailed from the car, fleeing on foot toward Winslow Park, a designated dog park, police said.
Anthony Carafa, of Redding, who trains dogs, was in Winslow Park when the Civic careened into the wooded area.
Carafa said the car lost a tire and appeared to be traveling about 70 mph. The Honda hit a sign, glanced off a tree and nearly struck a woman leaving the park, he said.
Officers from Fairfield and Westport, including several police dog units, swarmed the area. A second tracking operation was launched by officers armed with M-4 rifles about 2:40 p.m. through another part of the wooded area.
A Norwalk woman walking her Pomeranian in Winslow Park decided to cut her dog's afternoon walk short after encountering a police squad there about 2:30 p.m. They told her they were hunting down a dangerous person.
"I said, `Is it dangerous?' They said, `Yes.' I said, `I'm outta here.' "