WEST JORDAN, Utah — A gunman fleeing law enforcement authorities shot and killed a police K9 before officers returned fire, fatally shooting the suspect who worked as a corrections officer.
The violent sequence of events began Thursday about 11 a.m. as police received a report that a suspect identified as Zachary Tyler Alvarenga was holding a woman against her will at gunpoint, West Jordan Police Officer Sam Winkler said.
Winkler said Alvarenga, 25, and the woman “at one point worked together,” KSL.com reported.
It’s been confirmed by the Utah Department of Corrections that Alvarenga was employed as a corrections officer. He was hired in September 2021 and worked at the Utah State Prison.
It was unknown Friday whether the woman is also a corrections employee.
The woman managed to escape and run from Alvarenga. Officers located him a short time later in the Jordan Landing area.
When officers approached the suspect, he fled in his vehicle and a pursuit was initiated. Not long after, law enforcement personnel terminated the chase due to public safety concerns.
However, officers relocated Alvarenga a short time later and another chase was quickly aborted in deference to public safety, according to Winkler.
“While officers continued to locate the suspect, investigators learned that the suspect was able to contact family members of the female party and threaten them with a weapon,” Winkler said.
Police contacted Alvarenga by phone and tried to negotiate with him while also keeping him under surveillance. Nevertheless, a third vehicle pursuit began, KSL.com reported.
During the chase, police were able to deploy tire spikes and the suspect vehicle became disabled.
Police chased a fleeing Alvarenga on foot in a parking lot near the Jordan Credit Union. During the chase, police deployed K9 Maya to apprehend the suspect.
Sadly, Maya was gunned down by Alvarenga in the process of trying to take him into custody, according to the news outlet.
“While fleeing from officers, Mr. Alvarenga actually fired towards officers and (police service dog) Maya succumbed to the gunfire injuries she suffered that night. Again, she is credited with saving the lives of several officers on scene who were in pursuit of Mr. Alvarenga,” Winkler said.
Eight officers from three agencies — West Jordan, South Jordan and Unified Police Departments — returned fire, fatally shooting Alvarenga, KSL.com reported.
Although Maya had body armor, her handler was unable to get it in place due to how fast the dynamic situation unfolded, according to police.
“It was just too quick to get her vest on,” Winkler said.
Winkler was uncertain whether the vest would have prevented her death.
West Valley police will be leading the officer-involved shooting investigation. There is both bodycam and dashboard camera video of the incident that will play a role in the subsequent inquiry, Winkler said.
Maya was an award winning police service dog, according to Winkler. At the Utah Peace Officer Association K9 trials in 2021, the West Jordan Police Department took first place, largely due to Maya who collected several individual awards.
On Friday, Maya, a 6½-year-old Belgian Malinois that had been with the department since 2018, was remembered as a hero by police officers across the state.
“Last night, she saved the lives of countless officers,” said Winkler.
“I am wishing continued strength for the West Jordan Police Department after one of their K-9s was killed in the line of duty. Today, I spoke with Chief Wallentine to offer support and condolences on behalf of @slcpd,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown tweeted.
“Our hearts are broken for the loss of this hero. Our thoughts are with West Jordan Police Department, and especially Maya’s handler and family. RIP Maya,” tweeted Unified police.
“Our hearts break for our friends at West Jordan Police Department, and for K9 Officer Maya’s handler and companion. Thank you for your service, Maya. We hope you’re running and playing with all your other four legged friends. #RIP #policek9,” the Summit County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.
The Utah Department of Corrections joined the chorus of sorrow.
“We express our deepest condolences to all of those impacted by the incident that occurred last night,” the department said in a prepared statement.
Maya will be laid to rest on Monday. Winkler said the funeral will be restricted to officers and K9 handlers, KSL.com reported.
However, once the memorial is finished, officers will take Maya on her final “patrol,” which will include a procession through the streets of West Jordan.
Police have encouraged community members who’d like to pay their respects to line the streets at that time.