By Craig Giammona
According to police, Joseph Pennington, 43, of Maspeth and Dion Mines, 35, attempted to car-jack a vehicle driven by off-duty Police Officer John Lopez, 37, near the corner of 55th Avenue and Queens Boulevard around 12:20 p.m.The two men, described by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly as “career criminals,” had just robbed the HSBC branch at gunpoint and needed a getaway car, police said. The armed men first attempted to steal a woman's car, but were unsuccessful and moved on to the green Dodge Intrepid occupied by Officer Lopez and his family.Kelly said that after Mines attempted to open the passenger door, Lopez shouted “Police!” and the two men took off running north on 55th Avenue, passing the Georgia Diner. Lopez then ran after the men. Kelly said Pennington stopped and fired at Lopez, who returned fired. Lopez and Pennington then exchanged fire a second time and Lopez was struck in his upper left thigh. Lopez hit Pennington in the chest, Kelly said. Pennington then collapsed and was subdued by Lopez. Lopez was in stable condition Sunday, while Pennington was in critical condition, Kelly said.Kelly said a .380 caliber pistol and a bag of money were recovered at Pennington's side. A police spokesman, citing NYPD policy, declined to disclose how much cash the men had stolen.Once uniformed officers arrived on the scene, Dion was taken into custody after he was discovered hiding under a car in the Georgia Diner's parking lot.The incident occurred on a sunny Saturday afternoon, a block from the shops at Queens Place Mall and the streets were crowded with pedestrians. Witnesses described a scene more Wild West than western Queens.”It was only by the grace of God I wasn't hurt,” said Mindy Erdman, who had just finished a meal at the Georgia Diner when the incident unfolded and was on her way to retrieve her car from the parking lot. Erdman, of Kew Gardens, heard shots fired and sought cover behind a car in the back of the parking lot.”They were shouting 'Lady, lady, get out of the parking lot,'” Erdman said, describing instructions she received from police officers. “It was a wild scene.”Another man who was inside the diner at the time said he saw about 15 police officers with guns drawn looking for a suspect, presumably Mines.”I've never seen anything like that in my life,” said Richard Schikman, a Queens native who was visiting from California.At a news conference Saturday evening, Kelly said Mines and Pennington were suspects in recent robberies of nearby Citibank and Northfork branches.Pennington had previously been arrested 16 times, Kelly said, while Mines recently finished a 15-year prison term for manslaughter.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.