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Two people found shot in trunk after Ridgecrest chase, gun battle

Crime, Law and JusticeLaw EnforcementShootingsCrimeHomicide

A suspect who opened fire on passersby during an hourlong police pursuit in Central California has been killed, and two people found with bullet wounds in the trunk of his vehicle were airlifted to an area hospital, authorities said.

Details about Friday morning's incident in Ridgecrest, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, were still developing, officials said.

Ray Pruitt, spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Office, confirmed the male suspect died after he "became involved in an exchange of gunfire" with authorities when the pursuit ended on Highway 395 roughly eight miles north of Highway 58.

It was not clear when the man and woman found in the suspect's trunk sustained their injuries, nor were the extent of their injuries immediately known, Pruitt said.

A Kern County sheriff's deputy began following the vehicle -- wanted in connection with an investigation into an assault with a deadly weapon that later turned into a homicide -- about 7:10 a.m. in Ridgecrest, Pruitt said.

Information about that homicide was not immediately available.

The deputy followed the vehicle until he was joined by other units and tried to pull it over.

The pursuit began after the vehicle failed to yield, Pruitt said.

During the chase, the suspect "fired numerous times" at both the officers and civilians, Pruitt said. It was not immediately clear whether any injuries were reported.

The chase ended about an hour later after the suspect pulled the vehicle to the side of the road and exchanged gunfire with authorities, Pruitt said. Three agencies were involved in the shooting, Pruitt said: Kern County deputies, Ridgecrest police and California Highway Patrol officers.

About 10 miles of Highway 395 remained closed Friday morning as investigators combed the scene.

Allie Cass, 26, said Kramer Junction, better known as the "four corners" to residents, was closed off and all employees in the nearby businesses were told to stay inside their stores and restaurants. Cass said deputies had closed off the intersection to the public. She said they stood with shotguns.

“There were a lot of angry people here,” Cass said. “They locked us down and didn’t tell us anything. They should have told us why.”

Further south from the intersection, a 76 gas station employee who declined to give her name said a lot of truckers and drivers headed north on Highway 395 were stranded.

The employee said she was stunned to hear about the shooting.

“These kind of things don’t happen here in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It’s very quiet here.”

In Ridgecrest, Mayor Dan Clark said he was thankful law enforcement officers were able to stop the gunman. Clark said the police chief told him the suspect "had been neutralized," but said it was still unclear "how many victims there are or the extent of the injuries."

Clark was teaching at Mesquite Continuation High School on Friday morning when the city's schools were all placed on lockdown about 7:30, he said.

“Everyone is very shook up and concerned in Ridgecrest," he said. "This is a small town and things like this just don’t happen here."

Ridgecrest, population just over 27,000, sits in the northeast corner of Kern County and is its third-largest city.

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kate.mather@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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