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Mass. Suspect Faces Charges in Westport, Fairfield

WESTPORT, Conn. – Thomas Gardner, a suspect in the death of a New Bedford, Mass., man , is facing multiple charges in Westport and Fairfield following Wednesday's high-speed police pursuit and manhunt.

Gardner, of New Bedford, was arrested in Westport Wednesday around 4:40 p.m. outside the Playhouse Square shopping plaza after a five-hour manhunt that started following a police chase on southbound Interstate 95 in Fairfield.

The chase began around 11:30 a.m. after Fairfield Police Officer Kevin Wells' Lo-Jack system — radar that lets officers know when a stolen car in the area — sounded. Police used the system to track the stolen car, driven by Gardner, to the rest stop on I-95 between exits 22 and 21, Wells said.

The stolen car belonged to 36-year-old Michael Duarte. Duarte was found dead Wednesday evening inside a home believed to be owned by Gardner.

Westport police joined the chase when Gardner, 35, got off at Exit 18. From there, he led police down various local streets. In an attempt to stop him, officers deployed stop sticks on Compo Road South, Westport Police Chief Dale Call said.

"He tried to hit the officers who deployed the stop sticks, and got one of them on the foot," Call said. The officer who was hit wasn't seriously injured, Call added.

Gardner eventually ditched the car behind the Westport Country Playhouse and ran into the woods, as the car's tires were damaged from the stop sticks. Westport and Fairfield police set up a perimeter behind the Playhouse and several K-9 units were called in to assist with the search.

Gardner was arrested after he was spotted walking outside the shops at Playhouse Square, where he had been hiding from police. Gardner shimmied up a drain pipe at Playhouse Square and climbed onto the ceiling of the new Post Office, which is under construction, Call said.

"He hid there most of the time," Call said. "It's interesting because people were working inside that building. Whatever work they were doing was clearly loud enough for them not to hear him in the ceiling."

After hours of hiding, Call said Gardner "must have shifted his weight wrong" and fell through the ceiling after the workers left. He was hospitalized Wednesday night with a fractured wrist and a sprained heel, according to the Fairfield police's report.

In Westport, Gardner was charged with reckless operation of a motor vehicle, engaging police in pursuit, two-counts of criminal attempt at assault of a police officer, and third-degree burglary, Call said. After he was processed, he was turned over to Fairfield police.

In Fairfield, he was charged with first-degree larceny, interfering with an officer, evading police in pursuit, and reckless endangerment. He was held on a $500,000 bond and was scheduled for arraignment in Bridgeport Superior Court Thursday.

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