Ohio CO killed in bar shootout hailed as hero, loving father and friend

Timoteo Cruz drew the gunman's attention away from shooting bar patrons; he died in the shootout, but not before he shot the gunman and stopped the attack


By Adam Ferrise
Advance Ohio Media

CLEVELAND — Co-workers and family members remember the Cuyahoga County Jail officer who died last week in a shootout outside a Parma bar as a loving father with loads of friends and a man who loved to help people, including many co-workers who looked up to him.

Timoteo "Timmy" Cruz was hailed as a hero by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff, Parma police and those inside Rookies Bar & Grill when a angry patron opened fire with an AR-15 after he was asked to leave.

Timoteo
Timoteo "Timmy" Cruz, 27, leaves behind his 4-year-old son Levi, a girlfriend he met when he was 13, and dozens of friends and co-workers. (Courtesy photo)

Cruz intentionally drew the gunman's attention away from shooting bar patrons, according to court records. He died in the shootout, but not before he shot the gunman and stopped the attack. Bar patron Sean Michael Acierno also died in the shooting.

"He put his life right dead-smack in the middle of that situation to save all those other people," Cruz's father Jose Cruz said. "And when I had all those people that came up to me and said, 'You know he saved my life, he truly saved my life,' telling me my son was a hero, I told them they should do something nice every day, because my son gave his life for you to be able to do that."

Timmy Cruz, 27, leaves behind his 4-year-old son Levi, a girlfriend he met when he was 13, and dozens of friends and co-workers who reached out to Cruz's father days since the shooting. Levi turned four in February and the family marked the occasion with a trip to the bowling alley and a Spider-Man themed party.

Jose Cruz said his son always prioritized spending time with friends and family. In the days since his death, he found himself amazed by the number of people who approached him and told him stories about how his son helped out in times of need, like cutting someone's grass after a spouse's death.

A big family

Timmy Cruz grew up in a large family on the West Side of Cleveland with 10 other siblings, including a 10-year-old brother and a 15-year-old sister. Jose Cruz said his son bought his youngest brother a cellphone and put him on his plan so he could call if he ever needed anything.

His youngest two brothers, including one in U.S. Army bootcamp at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, are particularly struggling with their brother's death.

"We don't know what he's going through because we can't talk to him every day," their father said.

The family went camping every year at East Harbor State Park. Timmy Cruz recruited more and more of his family to join in as the years went on, his father said.

He loved dirt bikes as a kid and motorcycles as an adult. He also loved going roller skating with his family at the United States of Roller Skating on Denison Avenue and Ridge Road. He ended up working there as a teenager, like his mother and father.

He balanced being a jokester and class clown, with taking care of his siblings, his father said.

Timmy Cruz graduated from Max Hayes High School and went to work with his father for more than three years as a bricklayer for Bricklayers Local 5 Ohio. He aspired to work in law enforcement. He wasn't sure why, but said Timmy Cruz grew up around his father's friends, many of them police officers in Cleveland, Linndale and the surrounding area.

'He was a joy to be around'

He took two tests for police positions and later took one to become a corrections officer. Cuyahoga County hired him in 2017 and he quickly became a favorite of his co-workers and bosses.

Jail Cpl. William Speights, who supervised Timmy Cruz, said he became a big brother to the other officers, especially the seven officers he worked with on his own floor. He worked well with inmates, and took pride in solving conflicts that often bubble up in jail.

"He was a joy to be around," Speights said. "He was a people person. He inspired others to work better. You don't see that too often in this field. He had a very, very bright future. He always had a smile on his face and was a joy to be around."

Speights said Timmy Cruz fostered a good working environment in part by organizing gatherings with his co-workers and checking in with them regularly. He recently became a training officer, Speights said.

Speights said he was in the middle of filling out Timmy Cruz's performance review when he was killed. The review, shared with cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer, gave him high marks for his performance. In the section reserved for supervisors to give constructive criticism, Speights only wrote that Timmy Cruz should be studying for the corporal's exam for when, not if, he was promoted.

"For the jail, and obviously for his family and friends, it's been very, very difficult," Speights said. "You could see in Cruz that one day he could have been running this building. He had that type of thirst for knowledge."

The shootout

Jose Cruz said his son also worked off-duty security at Rookies Bar & Grill for years and enjoyed it. He went in March 13 like he did other nights.

About 2 a.m., bar staff threw siblings Juan Carlos Perez, 27, and Luis Carlos Candelario, 30 out of the bar. Candelario started up the car while Perez reached into the backseat and grabbed an AR-15, according to court records filed in Parma Municipal Court that say "very clear" surveillance video recorded the shooting.

Perez "began to spray" more than 30 bullets at the front of the bar in an attempt to kill anyone who walked outside, according to court records filed in Parma Municipal Court. One bullet killed Acierno in the parking lot.

Timmy Cruz grabbed his gun, went outside and drew attention from gunman, who fired shots at him. Timmy Cruz fired several shots back, hitting Perez in the hip, court records say. Cruz, however, was shot multiple times.

Timmy Cruz was "a good Samaritan who was trying to defend other innocent patrons," according to the filing by Parma Law Director Timothy Dobec, adding that the shooting amounted to a "cold-blooded murder."

'My child died a hero'

Jose Cruz said the night of the shooting he couldn't understand why he was getting so many calls and shut his phone off. One of his good friends, a Cleveland police officer, called his wife and told her they needed to go to the hospital because Timmy was shot.

He died before they arrived. He didn't have a wallet with him, so Jose Cruz had to identify his son.

"My heart sank," his father recalled.

Jose Cruz said he took solace from the hundreds of friends and corrections officers who reached out to him since the slaying. Two vigils, one held at the Justice Center and one at the bar, drew hundreds of supporters, as did a gathering by corrections officers the night of the slaying.

"I have found peace in the fact that my kid died doing what he loved, which was protecting and helping," Jose Cruz said. "He was always an advocate for the underdog. He always helped anybody and everybody. The fact that his life was taken by somebody that had no business doing what they were doing really, really sucks and I pray for that person and his family.

"Now, I'm not telling you that when that trial starts, I won't be mad. I'm just telling you that right now, at this moment, I am at peace with God, because my child died a hero. He died doing what he loved, protecting and looking out for others. He died saving people's lives."

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