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Tyler Morning Telegraph

By: JACQUE HILBURN, Staff Writer

January 02, 2002

SHAUNA WONZER: Staff writer, Tyler Morning Telegraph

A retired Tyler barber known affectionately as “Doug” to longtime neighbors doused his house, car and then himself with gasoline in what authorities suspect was an elaborate plan of self-destruction. Fred Douglas Wallace, 73, was shot and killed by a Tyler S.W.A.T. team officer New Year’s Day as he shot at firefighters and police responding to the fire at his 2120 N. Ross St. home.

Two Tyler Morning Telegraph employees, who were shot in the encounter, are recovering from their injuries. Reporter Shauna Wonzer, who sustained a bullet wound to the leg, was released late Wednesday from Mother Frances Hospital. Photographer Herb Nygren is also recovering after a bullet grazed his head. Authorities with both Tyler police and fire departments continue to search for leads as to what led the former Vietnam veteran to provoke the encounter.”We found evidence that a flammable liquid was poured on the front porch and set,” said Woody McFarland, Tyler fire investigator. “It also appears that he had poured flammable liquid on himself and inside the car … there was approximately half a gallon was inside the car.”Five additional gallons of gasoline were located near the car in the garage, the investigator said.

Tyler police said they also located evidence of a flammable liquid inside the structure as well as two loaded rifles inside the car. Authorities are unclear on a motive. “We don’t have one yet,” said Chris Moore, public information officer. “You could say that it appears as though he didn’t want to live anymore, but we are not going to say that at this point.  However, we are definitely considering it as a possible motive.”

Authorities by Wednesday were still withholding the name of the officer who fired the shot and make of the rifles.Wonzer sustained a quarter-sized bullet wound to the leg.Neighbors said they had noticed changes in Wallace’s behavior in recent weeks, at times appearing disoriented. “He had been taking some type of medication that made him see things,” said Jerry Rider, who lived across the street. “Sometimes he would think people were on top of the house and he said he would have to calm himself down. There was no one there. I think that medicine got in his head and he didn’t know what he was doing.”Last week, Wallace was unable to recall his own identity, one man said. Residence said the man had recently lost a lot of weight and appeared ill.” He looked bad,” Rider said. “But he would always bounce back.”

People who spoke with Wallace shortly before the deadly shootout with police said they noted nothing amiss. Neighbors said the “Doug” they knew was a kind gentleman who kept to himself and bothered no one. He enjoyed “puttering” in the yard and caring for his pet chickens and dogs. He was a proud man, displaying metals, plaques and other memorabilia from his years of Army service on the walls of his home, friends said. He was described as a trusted friend by several people, and an expert barber in his prime, serving as owner-operator of “Doug’s,” the unofficial name for the hair cuttery.”He cut everybody’s hair around here,” said neighbor Randy Blaylock. “You didn’t need an appointment –

you just showed up.”But some of the trust held by residents faded Tuesday.” He was the nicest

man,” said LaQuita Hampton, who phoned 911. “That’s why it doesn’t make any sense that he

would start shooting at the people who were trying to help him.”

Residents said they ran to Wallace’s home after seeing flames to make sure he was not trapped inside.Reaching his yard, they found the gates locked and no sign of the man.Barbed wire installed above the fence prohibited  anyone from gaining access to the front yard.Firefighters arriving on scene attempted to suppress the blaze and gain access to the garage to continue searching for the man.”They ran out like something was wrong,” Hampton said. “I stood there wondering what was going on and

my husband yelled at me to run to the house.”

A shot rang out, striking Ms. Wonzer, who was standing across the street. Another shot grazed Nygren on the side of the head.”I never saw him,” Ms. Wonzer said. “I just felt pain in my leg.”Paramedics transported her to Mother Frances Hospital for treatment. Nygren was treated and continued to snap photographs throughout the ordeal.Several nearby residences were evacuated by police.Two more shots were fired at police as they attempted to install flood lights and make contact with the man.A S.W.A.T. officer fired once, killing the man.The car was towed to the police property area for examination by crime scene investigators.On Wednesday, firefighters were summoned to the property area after a buildup of fumes resulted, filling the building with hazardous gases.Officials were forced to air out the building before resuming the investigation.

Also Wednesday, Morning Telegraph officials expressed relief over the well being over the safety of the two staff members. “We had a young reporter and photographer using good judgment in doing their jobs,” said Jim Giametta, executive editor. “In this case, they thought they were dealing with a fire, not a person with a  gun. This underscores how perilous situations can be for police and firefighters every day.”Giametta said this was the first time a newspaper employee had been shot in the course of covering the news.

Jacque Hilburn covers police, fire, and public safety organizations. She can be reached at 903.596.6282. e-mail:  © Tyler Morning T elegraph 2002