A quick-thinking Calistoga police officer testified Monday about a violent confrontation last year with two Windsor armored car robbery suspects in which he rammed their getaway vehicle after one of them shot at him.
Officer Luis Paniagua was a rookie with 10 months experience when he responded to an alert that the two suspects, later identified as Ivan Morales of Lake County and Sergey Gutsu of Antelope, both 25, could be driving toward Calistoga in a blue Chevy Suburban.
Paniagua said he drove his own patrol SUV to a spot on Petrified Forest Road where he expected they would be and they drove by within less than a minute.
He said he followed them as they turned onto Highway 128 and then Mitzi Drive, where Gutsu stopped, jumped out and began shooting a pistol at him, he said.
That's when Paniagua said he jammed the accelerator of his Ford Explorer, striking Gutsu before crashing into a tree.
He got out and trained his own gun on Morales as the suspect ran away but he decided not to fire, in part because Morales appeared to be unarmed.
"I couldn't justify shooting him," Paniagua told prosecutors in the ongoing trial for the two men.
Morales and Gutsu face life in prison if convicted of charges stemming from the July 12, 2016, robbery outside Chase bank in Windsor's Lakewood Village shopping center.
Prosecutors said the two waited for an armored truck to arrive in the parking lot and Morales shot the guard, making off with $30,000 in cash. They fled, switching cars before driving across the Napa County line into Calistoga.
Paniagua was finishing his lunch at the police station when dispatchers called with a description of the suspects and their getaway car, he testified.
"I went to go look for that vehicle," Paniagua said.
Soon, he spotted them and moved in behind them. When Gutsu stopped, he gestured with his arms toward Paniagua in a kind of "why-are-you-following-us?" way, he said.
"The next thing you know, I'm getting shot at," Paniagua said.
Gutsu fired two or three shots before Paniagua rammed him, leaving him injured. Morales ran but was caught hours later in massive search.
Paniagua identified Morales in court. Gutsu did not appear before the double-jury panel Monday after waiving his right to be present.
Earlier Monday, a former Granada Hills armored car guard testified about a March 2016 robbery that Gutsu is a suspect in.
The trial, which was delayed by recent wildfires that destroyed two jurors' homes, is expected to run to mid-December.
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