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Aspiring producer mistakenly killed by deputies was chasing his dream

Family and friends of the aspiring producer mistakenly killed by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies this week said he was excited to be chasing his Hollywood dream.

John Winkler, a 30-year-old TV production assistant who had recently arrived from Washington state to pursue a career in entertainment, was hit once in the chest when three deputies opened fire on him Monday night at a West Hollywood apartment complex, officials said in a statement. Deputies mistook him for an assailant who was holding people hostage at knifepoint in an apartment.

Winkler had recently been hired for several days as a production assistant for the comedy show "Tosh.0." Winkler's friend Devin Richardson said Winkler wanted to become a producer or director.

"He chased dreams," Richardson said. "He was very smart, a well-liked guy."

Winkler's aunt said he was thrilled about being in Hollywood.

"He was quite excited the last time we talked to him," said Anne-Marie Van Wart, 62, by phone from Tacoma, Wash. "He was just getting his foot in the door of life. Just, the light was right around the corner … and [now] he's gone."

He died at a local hospital. A second hostage was also mistakenly shot in the leg, officials said.

According to a sheriff's department statement describing the incident "The apartment door suddenly opened and a male victim came rushing out. He was covered in blood and bleeding profusely from the neck. Simultaneously, Winkler ran out of the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim. Both ran directly at the deputies."

Winkler fit the general description of the suspect — a white man in a black shirt — and when he bolted out of the apartment deputies believed he was the assailant, officials said.

Interim Sheriff John Scott on Thursday called the shooting "very tragic."

Richardson said Winkler, who lived in the complex, was a friend of the two other men held hostage and rushed to the apartment when he heard them screaming.

But sheriff's officials said they believed Winkler was already in the apartment visiting friends when the disturbance began.

The incident unfolded about 9:30 p.m. Monday in a large apartment complex in the 900 block of Palm Avenue off Santa Monica Boulevard.

Sheriff's deputies said they got a call about an assailant with a knife in a unit of one of the complex's buildings. When they got to the complex, a witness told them there were two men in the apartment and that the assailant was a thin white man wearing a black shirt, according to the statement.

Deputies "announced themselves" at the apartment but got no response. The door suddenly burst open and a bloodied man came out with Winkler close behind, officials said.

The deputies believed "Winkler was the assailant and the assault was ongoing and he would attack the entry team," officials said.

After the deputies fired on Winkler and the other man they heard "sounds of a fight coming from inside the apartment," according to the statement.

They entered the apartment and saw another male victim as well as the suspect, identified as Alexander McDonald.

McDonald was choking the victim and "tearing at his face," officials said.

The deputies subdued McDonald and arrested him.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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