Dorner manhunt: Fish and Wildlife officers make the big break
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While law enforcement officials scoured the hillsides above Big Bear Tuesday searching for Christopher Dorner, wardens from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife were called in to patrol the rugged terrain of California 38.
It was on that highway that the officers first encountered Dorner fleeing in a stolen car, engaging the fugitive in a white-knuckle chase in which the ex-cop commandeered two different vehicles, authorities said. The pursuit culminated in what officials described as a wild shootout between Dorner and a state game warden.
The actions by alert wildlife officers may have set in motion Dorner’s last stand -- in a snowbound cabin, surrounded by police. The cabin burned to the ground, and authorities believe Dorner was inside.
Details of the chase over icy rural roads emerged late Tuesday night, as authorities pieced together what appeared to be the fugitive’s last desperate movements.
The encounter began at about 12:45 p.m. as Dorner was driving a purple Nissan on California 38 when he passed a marked vehicle driven by the agency’s law enforcement officers.
Dorner’s vehicle was tucked behind buses when officers recognized him and swung their cars around in pursuit.
Dorner allegedly attempted to evade them by turning onto Glass Road, and at some point crashed and abandoned his small car.
With officers still in pursuit, Dorner then allegedly stopped a pickup truck driven by local resident Rick Heltebrake, ordering him out. Heltebrake, a ranger at a nearby Boy Scout camp, didn’t want to leave his dog behind, a Dalmatian named Suni.
Dorner allowed them both to get out and took off, according to an account from Heltebrake’s friend.
Behind the wheel of the stolen truck, Dorner was once again careening down Glass Road, and once again he passed a Fish and Wildlife vehicle coming the opposite direction, officials said. Again, an officer recognized Dorner.
The officer radioed his colleagues traveling behind him that Dorner was heading their way now, in a silver pickup truck.
When Dorner saw the second Fish and Wildlife truck approaching he rolled down his window and took aim. Dorner opened fire as the vehicles passed, strafing the truck with a handgun, officials said.
The badly perforated state truck skidded to a halt and a game warden exited the vehicle and fired a high-powered rifle several times as Dorner sped away, according to authorities.
Dorner subsequently crashed that truck and fled on foot into the cabin.
For days, multiple law enforcement agencies from across Southern California laid out a dragnet for the man accused of killing four people and injuring others.
But it was game wardens who made the first contact with Dorner in days. They are, however, accustomed to facing people with weapons, a spokesman said. The agency averages about one officer-involved shooting a year and Tuesday’s gun battle was the second incident in seven weeks involving game wardens being fired on.
And, while the five officers were “certainly rattled,” said Lt. Patrick Foy, Fish and Wildlife spokesman, they were all highly trained and had just received the rifles.
As for celebrating for their part in the day’s drama, given the casualties suffered by law enforcement, “Nobody’s celebrating.”
-- Julie Cart and Matt Stevens