ATLANTIC CITY - One person was confirmed dead Thursday after a high-speed car chase through four Jersey Shore towns that ended in a shootout with police at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway, near an outlet mall crowded with shoppers and tourists.
Police apparently began the pursuit in Pleasantville about 12:30 p.m. The chase headed east along the Black Horse Pike (Route 322) into Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic City, and then south into Ventnor, before turning north and heading back into Atlantic City.
The incident began with two 911 calls to the Pleasantville Police Department reporting a man with a gun at La Escondida II Restaurant on the Black Horse Pike, said Jay McKeen, a spokesman for the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office.
The man attempted to elude Pleasantville police in a dark SUV headed to Atlantic City. Police units from Egg Harbor Township and Atlantic City joined the pursuit.
The driver, who was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:20 p.m., was identified as Antoquan T. Watson, 27, of Williamstown. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday.
Unofficial reports indicate that shots had been fired from the fleeing SUV, which crashed into a curb in the 2100 block of Atlantic Avenue near Missouri Avenue, within the Walk shopping area. Watson allegedly left the vehicle holding a gun, and gunfire was exchanged by Watson and police.
A witness said that before police cleared the area, a body was seen in the street near a stopped vehicle surrounded by police cars. The body had been covered with a sheet. Police diverted traffic from the area while the investigation continued through the afternoon Thursday.
Despite record cold temperatures Thursday, the shopping area, which features outlets for Coach, Eddie Bauer, Guess, and other brands, was crowded with shoppers during lunch hour.
A parked police vehicle at the Atlantic City Public Safety Building on Atlantic Avenue was struck by bullets during the incident, officials said. Three Pleasantville police officers were taken to a local hospital to be evaluated for non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.
"It could have been more violent," said Mayor Don Guardian, who arrived on the scene within minutes of the incident. "Because of the brave and heroic actions of the police, they certainly saved the lives of many other people."
Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle, who also went to the scene, called it a miracle that no officers were seriously injured in the shooting.
And while officials said the incident was well-handled by police, the scene may have appeared frightening for shoppers or those dining in restaurants who said they heard the commotion and arrived to see the suspect's SUV sitting near the curb, the driver's side door still open, and the driver's seat in a reclined position.
"I don't like seeing something like this," said Frank Zimmer, 72, of Utica, N.Y., who had arrived Thursday morning to spend a long weekend in Atlantic City and was lunching inside the LongHorn Steakhouse. "It's scary."