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Rookie trooper killed 20 years ago; officers remember that night

DECATUR, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) — 20 years ago a Decatur man gunned down a rookie state trooper who pulled him over for a traffic stop.

Corinne Rose was there that night, and talked to police officers who were part of the frantic search for the suspect.

April 3, 1999… the night before Easter.

26-year-old rookie State Trooper Cory Elson couldn’t have known that his fate was likely already sealed when he pulled over 38-year-old Mark Lichtenberger for a tail light issue.

Local police had cited Lichtenberger several times recently.

“There was some comments made that he was upset about getting stopped by the police. And apparently the rumor was that if he got stopped again, he was going to take matters into his own hands,” says Decatur Police Chief Leonard Corral, Jr.

As Trooper Elson got out of his squad car at the Advance Auto Parts, Lichtenberger opened fire with a fully automatic AK-47, firing 37 rounds.

Trooper Elson fired back, fighting to the end.

Chief Corral was a patrol officer back then.

He says every officer got a page that night to report to work.

Bring your gun, bring your vest, bring your vehicle — there’s been a shooting.

“When I got to the station it was a scary feeling because this town has never experienced anything like that. And it’s a horrific situation. The details we got later of this poor young trooper, just to be gunned down like that showed me that there’s nothing but pure evil in some people,” he says.

All police had to go on was that the suspect was driving a green pickup.

State Police Sergeant Ron Galaviz helped search for Lichtenberger the next day, and was at his house when he was arrested.

“The one thing that we wanted to ensure, the investigators really wanted to ensure, was that every step of the process, to include his rights were observed and upheld so that there was nothing, there was no kinks in the armor, so to speak, in the prosecution’s case. We wanted to make sure we had a rock solid case,” Sgt. Ron Galaviz says.

Galaviz says while other troopers have been killed in the line of duty since 1999, they’ve been traffic-related deaths.

Elson was the last to be shot in our area, but police know the risk is very real.

“Only through the end of March but there were 29 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in the United States. 13 of them were shot and killed. So almost 50%,” he says.

Because Elson’s family did not want the death penalty, Lichtenberger was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus 20 years for using a machine gun.

“Uh, there’s not really much to say. I think my actions basically said it all.,” Lichtenberger said that day.

He’s housed at maximum security Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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