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Police: Gunman killed in shootout at Omaha hospital

A police SWAT team member walks out of the Creighton University medical center in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday. Two officers were hurt and a suspect was fatally wounded in a shooting at the facility.
A police SWAT team member walks out of the Creighton University medical center in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday. Two officers were hurt and a suspect was fatally wounded in a shooting at the facility.Nati Harnik / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A 39-year-old man who led police on a high-speed car chase early Wednesday opened fire hours later at an Omaha hospital, grazing two police officers before they gunned him down, authorities said.

Jeffrey Layten, of Valley, died of his wounds shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday at Creighton University Medical Center, Omaha Police spokesman Jacob Bettin said. Police did not disclose a possible motive for the shootings, and the hospital's CEO, Gary Honts, said he didn't know of any link Layten may have had to the hospital.

According to police, Layten fired at the two officers, grazing them, and the officers returned fire.

Police Lt. Darci Tierney told television station KETV that the officers' "grazing wounds" were minor. They were treated at the hospital and released.

Police have not said why they think Layten was at the hospital, but hours earlier he had fled the crash scene after driving his pickup truck into a utility pole in Ralston following a high-speed police chase in nearby La Vista.

Bettin said that just before the shooting, a caller to 911 reported that an apparently despondent man was using a pay phone at the hospital, which is a few blocks north of the city's downtown.

The officers encountered Layten in the hospital's east lobby, where the shooting occurred, Bettin said. He declined to release details about the confrontation, and said several people who were in the lobby during the shooting were still being questioned.

According to La Vista Police Chief Robert Lausten, a woman called the department at about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday to report that Layten, her sister's estranged husband, had attacked her sister in Tekamah and threatened to drive to La Vista to kill her and her mother. Tekamah is about 40 miles north of Omaha.

According to the Burt County Sheriff's Office, deputies went to Layten's former home near Tekamah but were told he had just left in his pickup truck and had taken three guns with him.

Lausten said officers set up surveillance at the La Vista homes, and that Layten drove by his estranged wife's mother's home within minutes.

Officers tried to stop the truck, but Layten took off and led police on a dangerous chase through the city at speeds of over 90 mph, Lausten said. Officers gave up the chase, and Layten crashed into a utility pole in nearby Ralston a short time later. Layten fled the scene armed with a rifle, the chief said.

The chief said he was told Layten may have had some "special forces kind of training."

"We're really lucky no one was shot here," Lausten said.

Omaha police were trying to determine Layten's whereabouts between the chase and the shooting at the hospital, Bettin said.

Layten owned the Upland Fields Hunt Club, had at least four years of Army training and "was a crack shot," Omaha attorney James Martin Davis said outside the hospital.

"I can't imagine Jeff Layten, in his right mind, would have pulled a firearm and shot at an Omaha police officer," said Davis, who considered Layten a friend.

U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Nebraska, issued a statement saying he's hunted on Layten's property many times.

"Jeff has always been an easygoing person, and today's episode is very out of character for him," Terry said.

Calls on Wednesday to a Tekamah phone listing for Jeffrey and Courtney Layten went unanswered. A public-records search turned up a number of people in La Vista and Omaha who might be related to the couple. Messages left by The Associated Press at the home listings of those people were not immediately returned.

A woman who answered the home phone of Jack Layten of Aurora, Colo., who might be the father of Jeffrey Layten, said he was not available to speak and hung up.

In a statement released by police Wednesday evening, Jeff Layten's family said "Jeff's entire family is profoundly saddened by today's events. We appreciate the media's respect of our privacy in this time of mourning."

Creighton University Medical Center, which has 334 beds, is one of two trauma centers in Omaha. It has a network of nearly 300 physicians who practice in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.