NBC News and news services
updated 1/5/2011 9:21:39 PM ET 2011-01-06T02:21:39

The police chief of a small northwest Oregon city was shot to death Wednesday in a struggle with a man at a car auto shop. The suspect was wounded and taken to a hospital.

A family source told NBC station KGW that he was police Chief Ralph Painter, 55, and Mayor Jerry Cole confirmed that.

"We've lost our police chief ... in a line of duty death," Mayor Jerry Cole said. "This has been a tragic day in our city's history. No one thinks that something like this will happen."

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Cole said it was a "sad day" for his small northwest Oregon town. Chief Painter led a force of five officers.

"Ralph was my friend for 25 years," an emotional Cole said, calling him an "outstanding police officer" who served the city for 20 years and as chief for the past five years.

"I'm sorry for my reaction right now. He was a wonderful father, husband and grandfather dedicated to the citizens of Rainier."

The shooting occurred at a small shopping complex in Rainier after the report of a disturbance at Rainier Sound Authority about 10:45 a.m. The officer responded and struggled with the suspect, then was shot to death.

More officers responded to the scene.

Liquor store owner Traci Brumbles saw some police move toward the car audio shop.

"They were kind of pushed up against the wall," she said. "They'd sneak a little further and stop."

Then, the police ordered a man to drop a weapon and fired multiple shots into the Sound Authority building, said John Harper, who is opening a tobacco store.

"The cops just unleashed on him," he told the Longview Daily News.

The suspect was wounded and taken to a hospital, authorities said. Investigators said they did not think the suspect was from Rainier. He was expected to recover from his wounds.

They said the suspect's identity would be released after consultation with the Columbia County district attorney's office.

Dusty Rockwood, an employee at the Exhaust Shop and Tire Center, told the Oregonian newspaper that he had been told a man who had broken into a car wrestled with the officer, took his gun and shot him.

Jeff McCracken, the pastor at the Rainier Assembly of God Church in the shopping complex, told NBC station KGW he heard police sirens, watched the incident unfold outside his window and almost got shot himself.

“There were officers about 10 feet outside my window with AR-15s ... We heard them [police] start yelling at this guy inside to put his weapon down. I told everyone [in the church] to get down. Then all the sudden a round came through the window I had been looking through, about six inches above my head, where I had just been standing,” McCracken said. “I started yelling, ‘everybody get out, get out!’”

At that point, McCracken and the others inside the church ran to the opposite side of the building. They said police told them to stay inside as a safety precaution.

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The shopping complex is in the 7400 block of Rock Crest Street in Rainier, a town of about 1,800 along the Columbia River north of Portland. It is across the river from Longview, Wash.

It was at least the second shooting death of a law enforcement officer in the United States in 2011. On New Year's Day, a sheriff's deputy was shot to death in Enon, Ohio , while investigating reports of gunfire. The suspect also was killed. Deputy Suzanne Hopper had married last year and had two children.

In 2010, deaths in the line of duty among law enforcement officers rose to about 160 from 117 the year before, according to numbers as of Dec. 28 compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths.

This article contains reporting from KGW TV, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press.

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