Officer’s Fight for Life   9 Crucial Survival Lessons P1
copyright ccijax 2006

Charles Remsberg

The 25-year-old gangbanger was a significant player in the life of Chicago P.D. Officer Candace Milovich-Fitzsimmons for less than two minutes. In that flicker of time she says he changed her approach to policing forever.

He wanted to kill her, she believes, but instead he was the one who died, leaving a legacy of lessons that she's convinced will help her survive for the remainder of her career-and can help other officers better face the mean streets as well.

"I didn't go looking for this," she told PoliceOne in an exclusive interview recently. "It found me."

If her sergeant had been a bit indulgent, she wouldn't have confronted those watershed moments at all. At about 10:45 one chilly Monday night last November, having just transported a prisoner for a tac team, Milovich-Fitzsimmons and her young partner, Matt Blomstrand, were hanging around their district station on Chicago's Northwest Side, hoping to get cut loose from duty since only 15 minutes remained of their shift. "Too early to check off," their sergeant said. "Get back out there." So they did, Milovich-Fitzsimmons driving.

As they approached an intersection a few blocks away, a black Ford Explorer caught their eye up a side street. "It was going about 5 or 10 miles an hour," Milovich-Fitzsimmons recalls, "jerking back and forth like someone was jiggling the steering, and the horn was blowing like a maniac."

A domestic, they figured…and kept going. "Then our conscience got the best of us, and we went looking for that car." They quickly found it on a dimly lit street in a neighborhood predominately of small, single-family houses.

As they swung in behind, a male jumped out of the rear passenger-side seat, ran a few yards, then apparently changed his mind and ran back, trying to climb back in as the SUV stuttered forward in a jerky series of stops and lurches.

No brake lights signaled the stops, and the third time the vehicle abruptly halted the squad car rear-ended it.

What the officers had interrupted would be revealed only after Milovich-Fitzsimmons endured the most violent encounter of her 10 years as a Chicago cop. According to what police later pieced together, the male who'd been trying to reenter the vehicle and two cholos inside were members of the vicious Spanish Cobras street gang. The other occupant was a 33-year-old man who a few minutes earlier had been walking up to his front door from work, carrying a jug of milk for his family.

He was hailed by a young male pedestrian with a cane who insistently asked him for a ride somewhere. The mark had a "bad feeling" about the guy, so rather than risk the safety of his family he decided to "sacrifice" himself, and agreed. As the two approached his Ford Explorer, two more individuals leaped from the shadows, pushed the victim into the SUV and took off with him. Their original plan apparently was to hold him for ransom.

Inside the car, the assailants reportedly took $350 and a cell phone from the victim, then started taking turns beating him with their fists and the cane. Investigators believe they changed their mind about their crime plan and instead decided to drive to a desolate industrial area in the district and there murder the man.

The herky-jerky movement of the SUV was caused by the desperate victim grabbing the gear-shift lever and jamming it in and out of PARK.

Immediately upon the collision with the squad car, the gangbanger outside the Explorer and the one who'd been driving bolted. Milovich-Fitzsimmons radioed in a foot pursuit and beat feet after the driver. Blomstrand was delayed in exiting their unit because the crash had jammed his door. By the time he crawled out through his window, Milovich-Fitzsimmons had disappeared into the darkness. Blomstrand, with less than three years on the job, focused his attention on the two running vehicles, the beating victim who tumbled out of the SUV in a bloody heap, and the cholo inside who was trying to climb out through a rear door.

Milovich-Fitzsimmons, meanwhile, was sucked into a worsening series of clashes with the driver.