St. Croix Police ID nightclub shooting victim


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ST. CROIX - Police have identified the man who was fatally wounded early Saturday morning outside a mid-island nightclub, and the off-duty V.I. Police officer shot in the back during a shootout following the murder continues to recover.

V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said Monday that the man who was murdered in front of several witnesses outside Front Line Club shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday has been identified as 32-year-old Matthew Vernege Jr.

The wounded police officer - who police said confronted five armed men outside the club and ordered them to drop their weapons - was recovering from emergency surgery and in stable condition at press time Monday.

Police are not identifying the wounded officer, other than saying he is a veteran detective with more than 20 years on the force.

Police said another person who was not involved in the shooting at the nightclub was hit by a stray bullet and also was treated at Luis Hospital.

The hospital was placed on lock-down following the incident early Saturday and into Sunday afternoon.

Hospital spokesman Samuel Baptiste said Monday that because of the nature of the incidents that brought so many of the patients to the hospital there was a need to put a number of precautionary measures in place.

As of Monday afternoon, those measures had been relaxed and the hospital was opened for visitation, he said.

While the Police Department's arrest log only listed Elijah Felix, 18; Eugene Roberts, 26, and Derick Liburd, 23; as persons arrested in connection with the shootings, Rames said Lester Roberts, 24, and Larry Williams, 29, also were arrested and charged in connection with the shootings.

The arrest log shows that each man has been charged with first-degree murder; first-degree assault; illegal firearm possession; and related charges in connection with the assaults.

According to Rames, Vernege and his girlfriend were leaving Front Line Nightclub on Midland Road when they were confronted by several men as the couple got to their vehicle.

She said shots were fired and the man was fatally wounded while sitting in his truck in the parking area outside the club.

Emergency medical personnel pronounced him dead at the scene, Rames said.

When the shots were fired, witnesses alerted an off-duty police officer who was inside the club, Rames said. The officer approached the group of men, some of whom had weapons displayed, identified himself as a police officer and ordered them to drop their weapons.

She said the men did not comply and shots were fired, hitting the police officer in his back.

Officers were alerted to a vehicle accident in the area of Morning Star Hill at the same time they were notified of the shooting at Front Line, Rames said.

When officers responded to the scene of the accident, they found that three passengers inside the wrecked vehicle had gunshot injuries and the driver and another passenger had injuries resulting from the crash, she said.

Police confiscated at least five firearms from the vehicle - including the detective's weapon, which had been taken away from the officer after he was shot at the scene - and the five occupants of the car were taken to the hospital for treatment and subsequently were arrested there.

Vernege's murder was the territory's 14th homicide - including two vehicular homicides - this year, with seven on St. Croix, six on St. Thomas and one on St. John.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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