Dorner may have been hiding in plain sight near command center
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Though he lived only half a mile from the command center, deputies never knocked on the door of Jim Rose’s house looking for Christopher Dorner, Rose told The Times on Wednesday.
“One friend said, ‘OK, so much for the inspection,’ ” Rose, 78, said.
As it turned out, wanted murder suspect Christopher Dorner appears to have been hiding in plain sight, just a five-minute walk from where law enforcement officials from multiple agencies had centered their search operation for the ex-LAPD officer.
More than 200 officers were involved the first night. Sheriff’s department officials said the search included more than 600 cabins over eight square miles.
It apparently did not include Rose’s neighborhood, which it turns out, may have been where Dorner was hiding all along. The circumstance is reminiscent of the government’s search for Whitey Bulger, who was hiding under federal agents’ noses when he was captured.
‘As far as I could tell, they did about as good as they could do,’ said Otis Farry, whose home is on Club View Drive. ‘Who would’ve known?’
Farry’s home abuts the Big Bear Lake golf course, which is across the street from the neighborhood that rises into the forest.
“I figured he was back in the woods somewhere, but the guy was right across the street,” said Bruce Doucett, 55, a certified public accountant who lives in the same condominium complex as the unit where Dorner was said to be hiding. “All I can say is that it’s a bit unnerving.”
Doucett said the condo in question had been vacant and clean since Thursday, the last time a tenant was there for a vacation rental.
Authorities aren’t sure how long Dorner might have been in the condo. But Carl Macon, 53, said it was unsettling to know he walked his dog by the condo every day. He described Dorner’s alleged acts as ‘something out of a suspense book.’
Macon said his house has been tense, despite a visit by a SWAT team Thursday night as part of the cabin checks. Despite rumors Dorner might have left the mountain, Macon said he thought chances were good the fugitive had stayed — a lot of people he knew were on their toes.
But now, Macon said, it’s ‘time to chill.’
“Time to crack open the champagne,” he said.
If the body found in a burned-out cabin in the Big Bear area is identified as Dorner’s, it would end a weeklong manhunt for the ex-LAPD officer and Navy Reserve lieutenant. He is suspected in a string of shootings following his firing by the Los Angeles Police Department several years ago. Four people have died in the case, allegedly at Dorner’s hands.
He attempted to flee law enforcement officials on Tuesday, fatally shooting a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy and seriously injured another, officials said. He then barricaded himself in a wooden cabin outside of Big Bear off Highway 38, according to police.
Last week, authorities said they had tracked Dorner to a wooded area near Big Bear Lake. They found his torched gray Nissan Titan with several weapons inside, the said, and the only trace of Dorner was a short trail of footprints in newly fallen snow.
According to a manifesto that officials say Dorner posted on Facebook, he felt the LAPD unjustly fired him several years ago, when a disciplinary panel determined that he lied in accusing his training officer of kicking a mentally ill man during an arrest. Beck has promised to review the case.
The manifesto vows ‘unconventional and asymmetrical warfare’ against law enforcement officers and their families. ‘Self-preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago,’ it said.
On Tuesday morning, two cleaning crew workers entered a cabin in the 1200 block of Club View Drive and ran into a man who they said resembled the fugitive, a law enforcement official said. The cabin was not far from where Dorner’s charred truck had been found and where police had been holding news conferences about the manhunt.
The man tied up the workers and took off in a purple Nissan parked near the cabin, the official said. About 12:20 p.m., one of the maids broke free and called police.
Nearly half an hour later, officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spotted the stolen vehicle and called for backup, authorities said. The suspect turned down a side road in an attempt to elude the officers but crashed the vehicle, police said.
A short time later, authorities said, the suspect carjacked a light-colored pickup truck. Allan Laframboise said the truck belonged to his friend Rick Heltebrake, who works at a nearby Boy Scout camp.
Heltebrake was driving on Glass Road with his Dalmatian, Suni, when a hulking African American man stepped into the road, Laframboise said. Heltebrake stopped. The man told him to get out of the truck.
Dorner then allegedly sped off in the Dodge extended-cab pickup -- and quickly encountered two Department of Fish and Wildlife trucks.
As the suspect zoomed past the officers, he rolled down his window and fired about 15 to 20 rounds, officials said. One of the officers jumped out and shot a high-powered rifle at the fleeing pickup. The suspect abandoned the vehicle and took off on foot, police said.
They said he ended up at the Seven Oaks Mountain Cabins, a cluster of wood-frame buildings about halfway between Big Bear Lake and Yucaipa. The suspect exchanged gunfire with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies as he fled into a cabin that locals described as a single-story, multi-room structure.
The suspect fired from the cabin, striking one deputy, law enforcement sources said. Then he ducked out the back of the cabin, deployed a smoke bomb and opened fire again, hitting a second deputy. The suspect retreated back into the cabin, the sources said.
The gunfire gave way to a tense standoff. Mountain residents locked their doors and hunkered down.
Within hours, authorities moved in on the cabin. The fire broke out, setting off ammunition that had apparently been inside. On TV, viewers saw only the orange flames and curls of black smoke.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his officers have been providing around-the-clock protection for more than 50 people thought to be Dorner’s targets since the manifesto was discovered.
Police say Dorner’s first victims were the daughter of the retired LAPD official who represented him at his disciplinary hearing and her fiance. Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence were found shot to death Feb. 3 in their car in their condo complex’s parking structure.
Days later, officials said, Dorner allegedly attempted to steal a boat in San Diego in a failed bid to escape to Mexico. By Feb. 7, authorities said, he had fled to the Inland Empire. In Corona, police said, he fired at an LAPD officer searching for him at a gas station. About half an later, he allegedly opened fire on two Riverside officers, killing Michael Crain, 34, and injuring his partner.
Early on in the manhunt, officers mistakenly fired on three people in the Torrance area -- two Latina women and a white man -- while searching for Dorner, who is 6 feet tall and 270 pounds.
After his truck was found in Big Bear, authorities swarmed the area, where many cabins sit empty during the winter.
At the height of the search, more than 200 officers scoured the mountain, while others sifted through more than 1,000 tips that poured in after officials offered a $1-million reward.
Just as some officials began to speculate that the former cop had failed to survive in the wilderness, Dorner apparently surfaced.
-- Joseph Serna and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles and Phil Willon in Big Bear