Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Police officer shoots man, self

Investigators search for motive in apparent suicide

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Neighbors in the quiet Dorchester neighborhood of Waldorf remember a happy couple when thinking of Tora Lee Coates and the man with whom she shared her home.

That happiness was shattered Sunday afternoon when Charles County sheriff’s officers responded to the house in the 5800 block of Opaleye Court for a report of a shooting.

Coates, a sergeant and 15-year veteran with the Prince George’s County Police Department, was off-duty when she apparently used a handgun to shoot a man at her home on Sunday before shooting herself.

According to police, the shootings were a result of a domestic argument.

The sheriff’s office said Coates, 38, shot the 45-year-old man multiple times at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, then apparently shot herself at the house.

Coates had lived in the two-story home on the corner since 2003.

Prince George’s County police spokeswoman Cpl. Diane Richardson said Coates had been with the department since 1993. Richardson said she served with the department’s press office twice, from November 1997 to February 1999 when she was promoted to sergeant. Coates served as the supervisor of the office from November 2001 to May 2004, Richardson said.

Both Coates and the victim lived at the home, according to the press release from the sheriff’s office.

‘‘Our police department family is deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic death of Sgt. Tora Coates,” said Prince George’s Police Chief Melvin C. High in a press release. ‘‘Our thoughts and prayers are with Sgt. Coates’ family, even as our own hearts are filled with sadness.”

Coates was the sister of former Calvert County sheriff Vonzell R. Ward. Current Calvert Sheriff Mike Evans said the sheriff’s office is saddened by the tragedy.

‘‘We’re all saying prayers for them. It’s a tough situation,” he said.

Police have not identified the victim, but neighbors on Opaleye Court knew him as ‘‘Bill,” a former Marine who neighbors often saw, usually with Coates.

‘‘They were nice people, good people,” said neighbor Vickie Murphy. ‘‘I never saw them argue. They seemed like a loving couple.”

The news of the shootings took Murphy and others on the street by surprise.

Opaleye Court has fewer than a dozen homes and everyone knows everyone, at least well enough to say ‘‘hello” and wave.

‘‘You don’t think anything like this could happen,” Murphy said. ‘‘I can’t imagine what went wrong. It’s sad, sad.”

People remember the couple taking walks around the neighborhood, holding hands, working in the yard and doing everything together.

‘‘They were a real pleasant couple,” said Elizabeth Small, another neighbor.

The victim was flown by a Maryland State Police helicopter to Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, where he was said to be in critical condition, according to the press release issued Sunday.

The circumstances regarding the shooting remain under investigation.

Staff writer Joel Davis contributed to this report.