Guests escape, barricade rooms

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 19, 2006

Comfort Inn guests spent a harrowing two hours of uncertainty on Saturday night following a shoot out between Greenville police officers and suspect, Wayne Vasquez.

Atlanta resident Ken Armstrong and his girlfriend Donna Rainer were staying on the first floor across the hall from Vasquez.

&#8220I heard the police officers ask the guy to come to the door about four or five times,” Armstrong said. &#8220I looked out the peep hole and I saw the officers standing on either side of his door and one of them had his gun drawn. I told my girl to go lie down beside the bed and about that time I heard five or six gunshots.”

Armstrong said he waited a few minutes and then looked out the peephole of his ground floor room again and saw the suspect on all fours looking out the door of his room down the hall.

&#8220My girl told me to get away from the door and then I heard four or five more gunshots,” he said. &#8220At that point we knew we weren't staying in the room anymore, so we went out the window.”

Armstrong said he and Rainer ran around the back of the hotel and were confronted by police officers.

&#8220One of the officers shouted ‘is that them' and another officer told them ‘no it wasn't,'” he said. Then another officer came over with a shotgun and told us to get on the ground. After they let us get up we asked them if we could get as far away from there as possible.”

John Reimer and his wife, Sandee, stopped to stay at the Comfort Inn on Saturday night on their way back to Birmingham. Reimer said they had just checked in to room 217 on the second floor and had been inside only 20 to 25 minutes before the shooting started.

&#8220I vividly remember it,” he said. &#8220It was just rapid firing and we just assumed they were gun shots, even though I've never fired a gun. We just kind of froze up and looked at one another.”

Reimer said he heard a voice outside from his guest room that overlooked the front of the Comfort Inn.

&#8220I walked over and looked out and saw a police officer,” recalled Reimer. &#8220He was yelling that he was hit and that he needed some help. He was walking in circles. I saw about three police cars out front.”

Reimer said he and his wife locked the guest room door, blocked it with a desk and dropped to the floor. He said he periodically crawled to the window and looked out over what he called a &#8220surreal scene” as police cars from various law enforcement agencies formed a blockade near the Interstate 65 exits.

&#8220Every now and then we'd hear a door slam, which I could only assume were other guests,” he said.

Reimer said at approximately 9:30 p.m., soon after Greenville's Special Response Team had secured the scene and confirmed Vasquez's death, an officer knocked on their door to advise them of the situation.

&#8220He told us we should stay in our rooms for now, but we were allowed to leave around 11 p.m., if we wanted to,” Reimer said.

Nearby, at Taco Bell, customers and employees were told to lie down and turn off all lights after initial shots were fired.

Logan Scheoppert, along with friends Bailey Cates and Morgan Smith, were in Taco Bell during the standoff.

&#8220We tried to walk out and someone yelled at us to get back in,” he said.

Scheoppert said he didn't hear shots being fired, but he did see a police car arrive on the scene, help an injured officer into the car and then back up away from the hotel.

Kevin Pearcey contributed to this report.