Standoff ends in tragedy

CHAMPAIGN – Police and the county coroner's office are continuing their investigation of a standoff that left one man dead.

The three-hour standoff in northwest Champaign between a distraught Champaign man and police ended Thursday evening when the man shot himself.

Carl "Dennis" Stewart, 46, of 1218 Thomas Drive was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Carle Foundation Hospital Emergency Room, according to Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup.

Preliminary cause of death is a single gunshot wound, the coroner said.

"Our preliminary investigation indicates it was self-inflicted," Northrup said.

The coroner's office and police are continuing the investigation. In addition, the Champaign Police Department requested investigative assistance from the Champaign County Serious Use of Force Team, as is standard practice, according to police department spokeswoman Joan Walls. The Illinois State Police is the lead agency for the investigation.

Champaign police were dispatched to the 1200 block of Joanne Lane on a report of a domestic incident about 1 p.m. Thursday, according to Walls. Officers found Mr. Stewart in a sport-utility vehicle in a driveway. He had a gun and threatened to harm himself, she said.

Stewart was separated from his wife, but had been with her briefly before the incident, Walls said. The wife was not injured.

Officers secured the area, and hostage negotiators made contact with Mr. Stewart, who was distressed, according to Deputy Chief Troy Daniels.

Homes in the area were evacuated while negotiators tried to persuade Mr. Stewart to cooperate. Police, fire and ambulance equipment and staff were staged in the parking lot north of Arrowhead Lanes.

An armored police truck blocked Mr. Stewart's SUV in a driveway while negotiators used phones and a bullhorn to talk to him.

At one point, a family member tried to walk through the police to reach Mr. Stewart, but was stopped by another family member, Daniels and another officer. The family member said repeatedly, "You're just going to shoot him anyway."

Daniels replied that police were "going to do everything to see it end peacefully." He added, "We are prepared to stay as long as it takes."

But just before 4 p.m., Mr. Stewart tried to pull out of the driveway. An officer's voice could be heard with the bullhorn telling him, "Turn off your truck. You don't want to do this. You aren't going to be able to go anywhere. Turn off your truck right now."

As Mr. Stewart jockeyed his vehicle around in the driveway, the SWAT truck backed up to block his path. Suddenly, Mr. Stewart's red truck surged out across the lawn, around the corner, and down a side street. Police and ambulance equipment sped in pursuit.

Police chased him through neighborhood streets and several residential lawns, according to Walls.

Officers stopped Mr. Stewart near the intersection of Paula Drive and Honeysuckle Lane, where the hostage negotiators tried again to talk to him. He raised a gun to his head and fired one shot, according to Walls.

Medical assistance was summoned, and he was immediately taken to the hospital.

Unit 4 Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd said Mr. Stewart was the head custodian at Washington Elementary School, 606 E. Grove St., C. He had been employed by the school district since 1997, and was a custodian at Garden Hills Elementary School before going to Washington school.

Shepperd said the district will provide counseling services to children at Washington school today.

"The custodian is a very important part of the building. He interacts with everyone," she said.

Tim Millage, principal at the High School of St. Thomas More, said Mr. Stewart was also a custodian there for six years. Students and staff were saddened at the news, he said.

"We just had a Mass for him this morning," Millage said. "We didn't have any classes until we got together."

During the standoff, school officials kept students who attend Garden Hills and live in the area at the school until the situation was under control, Shepperd said. They also kept the students at the Early Childhood Center, 809 N. Neil St., who live in the area, at that school building.

The district provided vans to drive home other children who normally walk, and some children living very near the school were escorted home by school district employees. Students who attend Garden Hills and live elsewhere in the city were allowed to board buses and leave.

Shepperd said all children living in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Paula Drive, who attend other schools and were on their way home, were taken to either the Garden Hills school or the Joann Dorsey Homes and kept there. District employees monitored the perimeter of the barricaded area to keep children from walking into the area.

The students were released to their parents or driven home by administrators once the area was safe. All students were home by 4:35 p.m.

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