MILWAUKEE -- There were two new developments Thursday in case of the 37-year-old Milwaukee police officer who was struck by a vehicle on Christmas night. 19-year-old Juan Carlos Alvarado was officially charged in the case, and a criminal complaint was released that describes exactly what happened Sunday night, and Officer Vrtochnick's parents released a statement. Vrtochnick remains in critical condition at Froedtert Hospital, and a vigil will be held for him Thursday night.
The parents of the 37-year-old Milwaukee police officer struck by a car near 17th and Windlake on Christmas night released a statement Thursday. In the statement, Frank and Agnes Vrtochnick express gratitude for the support the community has provided for their injured son, as well as law enforcement for working dilligently to solve this case, and Vrtochnick's doctors, and they ask for continued prayers for Vrtochnick's recovery. Here is the statement:
"We want to express our gratitude for the overwhelming support for Frank and our family – the embraces and hugs, the handshakes, phone calls and kindnesses – that have been shown to us during this difficult time. Our deepest thank you that you have given us strength to keep going. Most of all, we thank the Milwaukee Police Department, District 2 officers – Frank’s fellow officers and coworkers – along with the staff and physicians at Froedtert Hospital in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, Shielded Hearts, the Milwaukee Police Association, along with many new friends who have reached out to comfort us. We believe that each man and woman in uniform would have said what Frank told us from his hospital bed when he spoke to us from his hospital bed: 'It’s better that it happened to me than to someone else.' We ask for your continued prayers. Frank and Agnes Vrtochnick, parents of Police Officer Frank Vrtochnick
A criminal complaint in the case was released Thursday afternoon. The complaint charges 19-year-old Juan Alvarado of Milwaukee with one count of first degree reckless injury, and one count of recklessly endangering safety - both felonies. Alvarado could face upwards of 25 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
The criminal complaint states that Officer Vrtochnick was the passenger in the squad car parked near 18th and Windlake on Christmas night when his partner, Officer Dayon Ninkovic saw headlights in the parking lane, coming directly toward their squad. Vrtochnick's partner says Vrtochnick opened the passenger door, and jumped out of the squad car. Officer Ninkovic says he then threw the squad car into reverse in an attempt to get out of the way of the oncoming vehicle.
Vrtochnick's partner says Vrtochnick was standing on the grass when the approaching vehicle struck him from behind, and says Vrtochnick was thrown into the air, flipped around and landed face first 30 to 40 feet away, near a street sign.
The complaint says Vrtochnick's partner says the vehicle also struck the squad car's passenger door, and proceeded to drive west, leaving the scene. The criminal complaint says Vrtochnick suffered multiple fractures to his left leg, several facial fractures, a subdural hematoma and was missing multiple teeth after being struck. The complaint says Vrtochnick would require multiple surgeries to address the injuries.
Milwaukee police say Vrotnick's co-workers from district two were key in locating and arresting the suspect in Chicago Wednesday. The department also says they're thankful for Chicago Police Department's assistance in making the arrest.
Milwaukee police had been putting out the suspected vehicle's description since Vrtochnick was critically injured - a dark colored sedan, possibly missing its passenger side rearview mirror, with possible front end damage. Wednesday morning, police found a vehicle matching that description in an alleyway garage, off of Becher Street, between 15th Place and 15th Street. Police called it a "vehicle of interest" in the hit and run that has left one of their own in critical condition. Police say they received credible information about the vehicle's location, and after getting a warrant to search the garage, police say they found a vehicle inside that was missing a passenger side rearview mirror, and had extensive damage to the windshield and front end.
The criminal complaint in this case states the garage is rented by Jaime Mexicano Garcia, who says he rents the garage from an elderly neighbor, and for the past two months, he's rented a space within the two-car garage to a neighbor named Benjamin. The complaint says Garcia saw Alvarado driving a damaged black Chevy Malibu from in front of Benjamin's house into the garage that Garcia and Benjamin are renting on Christmas night. The complaint says Garcia says he asked Alvarado what happened to the vehicle, and Alvarado said he didn't know what happened because he had been drinking for two days, and fell asleep. Garcia said Alvarado appeared to be intoxicated because he was stumbling a little bit and there was still beer in the car, according to the complaint.
The complaint says Garcia spoke with Alvarado again the day after Christmas, when Alvarado requested access to the Chevy Malibu. According to the complaint, Garcia asked Alvarado what he was planning to do with the vehicle, and Alvarado said he was just going to get rid of the car. The complaint says Garcia said while they were looking at the car, Alvarado tried to flag down a passing tow truck, but the truck didn't stop, and that was the last time Garcia saw Alvarado.
The complaint goes on to say Garcia was watching the news, and heard about the accident involving Officer Vrtochnick, and went to Milwaukee Police District Two, and reported the information he had regarding Alvarado and the black Chevy Malibu to police. The complaint says Garcia also showed a series of photos he had of the vehicle, and Alvarado, to police.
FOX6's Henry Rosoff was on a ride-along with MPD officers patrolling on Christmas night, when the call rang out that an officer had been struck. Those officers Rosoff had joined for the patrols escorted the ambulance carrying Vrtochnick to Froedtert Hospital. Since the incident Sunday night, there has been
an outpouring of support for Vrtochnick on the Milwaukee Police Department's Facebook page, from people all across the country. Cash donations have also been pouring in.
Omar Scheck helps run several Milwaukee area restaurants, and has gotten to know many of the city's police officers. When he was approached by two of them, he was happy to donate a $100 gift card to his restaurant for Vrtochnick's family. Scheck believes with all they're going through, a good meal might bring some comfort. "They walked in and said that a friend of theirs had gone through a difficult time, which I had seen on the news, and asked in anyway if I could help," Scheck said. Scheck's group threw in $500 total, and Brian Lammi and Donald Driver donated a combined $500, and Brewers' Ryan Braun has donated $500.
Restaurants in the SURG Group are accepting checks for donations. Checks can be made out to TYMPD Fund, which stands for Thank You, Milwaukee Police Fund.
Michael Crivello with the Milwaukee Police Association has visited Officer Vrtochnick in the hospital, and says he's doing a bit better. "He's got a ways to go, no doubt. He was severely injured, but he has the thoughts and prayers of this association, and all of his brothers and sisters on the street," Crivello said Wednesday.
The police and members of the public joined together Thursday night for a vigil for Officer Vrtochnick, held at St. Josaphat at 6th and Lincoln, where there were prayers and wishes for his speedy recovery.