Man fatally shot by police is recalled as quiet; He was a family man, neighbor says; merchant calls him preoccupied


Neighbors and acquaintances of John R. Sierra all seem to remember him the same way, although few really talked to him: He was a quiet family man who seemed preoccupied.

Sierra, 39, of the 9800 block of Old Annapolis Road in Ellicott City was fatally shot about 1: 30 p.m. Tuesday in front of a liquor store after wielding a knife at Howard County Police Sgt. A. J. Bellido de Luna and refusing to comply with the officer's repeated orders to drop it.

Bellido de Luna shot Sierra once in the chest from about 10 feet away, police said.

Sierra was taken by MedEvac helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he died.

Sierra socialized with few neighbors, said Lisa Machado, 17, who lives next door.

He spent most of his time with his family, she said. Sierra, who was from Puerto Rico, was looking for work and living with his in-laws and 5-year-old son, the teen-ager said yesterday.

"I was really stunned," she said. "It didn't sound like something he would do. He was always in our back yard playing catch with his son."

Sierra's family refused to comment.

An employee of G. L. Shacks Grill in the 9500 block of Old Annapolis Road called police Tuesday afternoon, saying Sierra -- an occasional lunch patron -- was disorderly and had a knife.

Although police officials said they believe Sierra was intoxicated, those who spoke to him minutes before the shooting said something else seemed wrong.

Sierra left the bar and bought a bottle of vodka from a liquor store next door before heading toward the street where he encountered Bellido de Luna.

"He didn't seem intoxicated," said Ron Henriques, 31, co-owner of Allview Liquor, who sold the vodka to Sierra. "He just seemed a little out there."

Sgt. Morris Carroll, a police spokesman, said Bellido de Luna, a 10-year veteran, appears to have reacted responsibly to a "life-threatening situation."

Bellido de Luna -- who heads the department's traffic investigation division -- has been placed on paid administrative leave pending a further investigation. He was not injured.

The last time a county police officer fatally shot someone was April 1996, when several officers tried to serve an arrest warrant on Randy Bruce Pratt of Clarksville. Pratt pointed a shotgun at officers from his front door and refused to drop his weapon.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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