An angry patient shot and killed an Escondido physician Monday morning during a consultation in the doctor's office, police said.
Dr. Craig R. Blundell, 37, just back from a vacation with his wife and two young sons in his native Oregon, was pronounced dead at 11:04 a.m. at Palomar Memorial Hospital, where he was rushed by ambulance from his office a few doors away. Blundell, a gastroenterologist, had practiced at Palomar since 1980.
Police arrested Steve Alan Larsen, 30, an unemployed engineer, a little after 10 a.m., about 10 minutes after they received first reports of the shooting. He was booked into the County Jail at Vista on suspicion of first-degree murder.
After a day of interviews, Escondido detectives had identified no motive for the shooting of the popular Blundell, a churchgoing Christian described by friends and neighbors as a family man who enjoyed sports and the outdoors.
"We are assuming that it was the first time Blundell had treated Larsen," Escondido Police Detective Richard Callister said.
Police said Larsen arrived at Blundell's office early Monday complaining of stomach troubles. Dr. Robert Stein, one of five internal medicine specialists who practiced with Blundell as the Palomar Medical Group, said he understood that Blundell was planning to conduct a diagnostic procedure on Larsen.
"I can't imagine any patient being angry with Dr. Blundell," Stein said. "He was a brilliant man, one of the kindest and sweetest people I have ever seen."
According to Callister, Blundell was alone with a patient when the patient became irate, pulled out a .22-caliber revolver and shot Blundell repeatedly in the head and chest. Several witnesses at the medical group's offices, 625 E. Grand Ave., saw a man leaving the scene and driving away.
The witnesses gave police a description of the man's car and its license plate number, Callister said. Police arrested Larsen without incident on Valley Parkway near the Escondido Auto Park, about 1 1/2 miles from the doctors' building.
Larsen moved to Escondido about two months ago, Callister said. He had worked for several oil companies and most recently was employed by Atlantic Richfield Co. in Bakersfield. Police said Larsen was believed to be single and living with his mother.
Other doctors' offices in the Grand Avenue building were closed after the shooting. "We're not giving any statements today," said a woman who answered the phone at the building's laboratory.
Blundell's friends, neighbors and co-workers were shaken by news of the shooting.
"There is no explanation at all," said Pat Kenney, pastor of the Christian Chapel of Escondido, where Blundell had been an active member for two years. "It's just incomprehensible right now to everyone, including the family."
Blundell had two sons, Ryan, 8, and Alex, 4. His wife, Kay, teaches dental hygiene to youngsters in schools throughout the San Diego area.
"We've kind of seen them grow. We had a lot in common with them," said Jerri Woods, who lives near the Blundells on Via Privada, a block-long private road in an unincorporated portion of San Diego County just north of Lake Hodges.
"People in the neighborhood are shocked and very saddened," said Nancy Reichel, another neighbor. Men on the block often would visit the Blundell home to play basketball with the doctor, she said.
Blundell, born in Portland, Ore., had an undergraduate degree from Oregon State University and a medical degree from the University of Oregon. He did his internship and residency at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose and at Stanford University Medical Center.
Before moving to the San Diego area in 1980, Blundell had a fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He was certified in internal medicine.
"Craig was one of the finest friends anybody could have," Kenney said. "He was a very compassionate and loving man."
Dr. Howard S. Brown, board chairman of the Palomar Pomerado Hospital District, described Blundell as an excellent physician with a successful practice.
"He was very easy-going, very subdued, an extremely quiet and private gentleman," Brown said.
Brown, also a gastroenterologist, said the shooting of a doctor in his office is especially shocking to fellow physicians.
"It is something we all worry about in our own medical practices, although we never keep it in the forefront of our consciousness," he said. "If we did, I guess we couldn't function."