A man suspected of fatally shooting an unarmed guard at the state Capitol was arrested Tuesday morning after he knocked on doors in a residential neighborhood and asked for a ride to the police station, authorities said.
Police had been searching for Derek W. Potts since Monday afternoon, when they allege he marched into the state Capitol and shot 51-year-old William Wozniak in the chest, then stowed his gun in his car trunk and drove away.
Potts was charged with first-degree murder, burglary and gun violations. He would face at least 45 years in prison if convicted; prosecutors had not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
“He’s in custody,” Deputy Police Chief Jim Burton said following the 7:15 a.m. arrest. “We’re interviewing him now.”
Phillip Giger, 50, who lives in the neighborhood where Potts was apprehended, said he was making coffee when he heard several car doors slam shut. He looked out the window and saw more than a dozen police cars and a man who was handcuffed and put in a squad car.
“There were no sirens, not a one,” he said. “They were so quiet my dog didn’t even notice it.”
No known connection
Police said they know of no connection between Potts and his alleged victim.
“We have no idea why he came here and did this,” said Col. Larry Schmidt, chief deputy director of the Secretary of State’s police force.
Schmidt said Potts apparently drove up to the Capitol’s main entrance, walked in and shot the guard once in the chest. Then he left, stowed his weapon in his trunk and drove off with his tires squealing and witnesses shouting for help.
“I heard the blast,” tourist Steve Bubb of Peru told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Then, I saw this guy lowering an object that looked to be a gun, turn around and walk out the door.”
Patti Kernebeck, a computer operator for the state Senate, said she heard the sound of the gun in her fourth floor office. Then she heard shouts of “He shot somebody! Get him!”
The Capitol was locked down for about an hour after the shooting, security was tightened at nearby schools and police said students near the Capitol who usually walk home alone were given escorts.
Metal detectors being ordered
The Capitol building doesn’t have metal detectors, and the security guards are unarmed.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Tuesday that he would issue an executive order to install metal detectors as soon as possible and would consider other security upgrades, including arming the guards.
State workers and visitors on Tuesday were met by armed police officers outside the Capitol’s main entrances. People entering the building were required to show identification and sign a log-in sheet.
Potts had recently enrolled in the criminal justice program at the University of Illinois at Springfield but withdrew Sept. 13 after less than a month, university spokeswoman Cheryl Peck said.
Before his arrest, police searched his apartment and said they recovered a shotgun that was stolen a week ago from a military surplus store. Police said they don’t know whether the shotgun was used in the Statehouse shooting.
Someone matching Potts’ description returned to the same store and tried to steal more weapons before the shooting but fled when the owner recognized him, police said.
The Legislature was not in session at the time of the shooting. The governor was not in Springfield but returned later to talk about the shooting, expressing sympathy to the victim’s family and calling for tighter security.
Security 'debate is now over'
Secretary of State Jesse White, who manages the Capitol, had previously asked lawmakers to install metal detectors but said it never happened because of budget constraints and a debate over avoid turning the seat of government into a fortress.
“That debate is now over,” Blagojevich said Tuesday.
State Rep. Rich Brauer had known Wozniak for about 30 years. He said Wozniak had a wife and two teenage children and had moved to the small community of Petersburg decades ago to escape the violence of Detroit.
“What can you say? He was just real friendly and outgoing,” Brauer said. “To me it’s incredible that we have this guy that is in charge of security at the Capitol, and he’s there with no protection at all. And a guy comes in with a gun.”