Police cruisers surround a Jeep Cherokee, whose drive was believe involved in police shooting Monday evening. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER — Police shot a driver in the front seat of his Jeep SUV Monday evening after a frantic chase through a crowded center city neighborhood and shouted warnings from officers, witnesses said.
Arraigned this morning in 9th Circuit Court, Manchester District Division, from his hospital bed was Christopher Varagianis, 37, of 12 Alyssa Drive, Pembroke. He is charged with attempted first-degree assault for trying to run down a Manchester police detective; two counts of reckless conduct; two counts of disobeying a police officer, and resisting arrest.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Janice Rundles said Varagianis suffered two gunshot wounds. He was taken to Elliot Hospital for what were described as non-life-threatening injuries.
Rundles would not name the police officer believed to have fired the shots, saying the investigation is expected to take several days.
The shooting took place about 6 p.m. on Merrimack Street, a little more than a block east of the old police station. The SUV zipped south through an alley off Merrimack Street, then west in an alley, then back north through a parking lot and back onto Merrimack Street, witness Charles James said. The pursuit ended with police detectives in front of the vehicle.
"The detectives ran down the street to the lot, put their hand on the hood and said 'Stop. Stop.' The Cherokee Jeep started coming forward, and I heard four shots," James said.
Late Monday night, authorities refused to say why the man was being pursued.
A block-long section of Merrimack Street, from Pine Street to Union Street, was closed off to pedestrians and vehicular traffic for hours after the shooting. Vehicles driven by the wounded man and the police officers involved remained in place, along with what witnesses said were two police bicycles.
Lt. Maureen Tessier said no city officers were injured.
Some residents had to seek police assistance to make it back to their apartments. Residents of an upscale Elm Street building that uses a parking lot on Merrimack Street were unable to park or retrieve their cars.
The shooting drew onlookers and curiosity seekers. Many said they heard two shots, followed quickly by three or four more. Several said the incident started at Seven Days Market at the corner of Union and Cedar streets. The vehicle fled, with police in pursuit, they said.
Supporting court documents obtained this morning indicated the incident originated at the market as a medical call. The fire department responded to a report of a man in cardiac arrest in his Jeep in the market's parking lot. When EMTs arrived, they found the man, later identified as Varagianis, unconscious. Documents indicate that when he came to, he was combative with firefighters and at some point took off in his car, nearly striking an EMT with his vehicle, and the chase began.
The State Police Major Crimes Unit moved in about two hours after the shooting and began searching for evidence at the scene.
Manchester firefighters in a ladder truck were traveling directly behind the vehicles involved in the chase, headed to the Central Fire Station at 100 Merrimack St. Fire officials said they were informed that the Attorney General's Office had ordered they not discuss what they saw, but Rundles said no such order was given.
The area where the shooting occurred is just a block away from the former police headquarters. Police moved several months ago to a new station on Valley Street. Monday night, people living and working in the area said since then the neighborhood has changed considerably, and not for the better.
Taryn Santiago said she saw a video of the shooting, filmed by a young man.
"They had him surrounded at that point," she said of the driver. "He was still trying to get away."
Several residents told a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter they saw police cars following the vehicle with sirens blazing. A man on the top-floor porch of a Merrimack Street residence said a green SUV almost ran him over in the alley between his building and one next door.
"If I was in the alley two minutes later, I would have been hit," said the man, who identified himself as Shy.
Laurel Street resident Andrea Schoenfeld said she heard a lot of commotion, then six or seven shots.