Honor Farm Escapee Fatally Shot by Police

Times Staff Writer

An escaped inmate from the James A. Musick honor farm was shot and killed Wednesday by a Laguna Beach policeman after he wrested a gun from another officer who recognized him and was trying to handcuff him, police said.

Christopher William Albrecht, 18, of Norwalk died in front of the city animal shelter on Laguna Canyon Road seconds after being shot once in the chest by Officer Jon Fehlman, Police Chief Neil J. Purcell said in a prepared statement.

Fehlman fired the shot after Albrecht, who had grabbed Officer Kevin Pickard's gun, broke free from a struggle for control of the gun, turned and pointed it toward the policemen, Purcell said.

Albrecht had been identified in an Orange County Sheriff's Department bulletin as one of two men who had escaped from the honor farm early Tuesday.

Authorities would not say why Albrecht was in Musick, a minimum security branch of the Orange County Jail. Department of Motor Vehicles records show that he has several outstanding citations, including four for driving without a license and two for speeding, that date back as far as October, 1984. In 1985, he was arrested for driving a stolen car.

Twenty-three inmates have escaped from the Musick facility so far this year, and this escape seems certain to renew complaints about the county's plan to expand the honor farm. Only last week, El Toro residents complained to the county Planning Commission about the expansion plans.

"This incident brings our fears to fruition," said Elizabeth Meadows, who lives about a mile from the honor farm. "I have a small child 11 years old--this is supposed to be a minimum-security honor farm . . . for shoplifters, that type of individual, not for the person who has a tendency toward violent crime."

The county's expansion plans, about which the Planning Commission will hold another public hearing next month, would increase the Musick inmate population from about 960 to 1,535.

Authorities gave the following account of the shooting incident:

Pickard pulled over a Ford pickup truck carrying Albrecht and another escapee from the Musick facility in El Toro--Steven Ray Brown, 18, of Nuevo, Calif.--shortly after 5 a.m.

Pickard and another officer, Ted Falencki, had driven out to the area to investigate reports of speeding cars on Canyon Acres Drive, a dead-end residential street off Laguna Canyon Road.

Truck Sped Away

As Pickard drove north on Laguna Canyon Road, he spotted a car pulled over with its emergency lights flashing. He pulled in behind it, then saw a pickup truck speed away from in front of the car, Purcell said. Pickard turned on his siren and red lights and followed, and the truck pulled into the driveway of the animal shelter, about 500 feet down the road.

Falencki arrived moments later, and he and Pickard approached the truck. Pickard recognized Albrecht as one of the two inmates described in the Sheriff's Department bulletin, Purcell said. After placing Brown, who had been driving the truck, in the back of Pickard's police car, Pickard and Falencki had Albrecht get out of the truck and tried to handcuff him, advising him that he was under arrest for jail escape, Purcell said.

Then Albrecht became violent and struggled with the officers, grabbing Pickard's gun from his holster, Purcell said. They fell to the ground. Albrecht said he was going to shoot himself in the head, and Falencki tried to grab the hammer of the gun to keep it from going off, Purcell said.

The gun went off, but the bullet lodged in the front of Falencki's police car.

While the three men continued to fight for control of the gun, a third officer--Jon Fehlman--arrived. As Fehlman got out of his car, Albrecht broke free and stood up. One of the officers yelled that Albrecht had a gun. When Albrecht turned toward Fehlman and pointed the gun at the officers, Fehlman fired the fatal shot, Purcell said.

Shooting Being Investigated

The Orange County district attorney's office is investigating the shooting. The three officers have been placed on administrative leave, Deputy Chief James Spreine said.

Albrecht's mother, Frances Marie Albrecht, 38, of Norwalk, said her son was always getting into trouble but that "he was a good kid."

"Chris was always afraid," she said. "He always ran. He would say no one was going to keep him locked up again. Since he was 12 or 13, he'd always say, 'I'm doing what I want to do.' I knew he'd get himself in trouble but never anything like this."

Christopher Albrecht dropped out of high school and about a year ago spent a short time in the U.S. Navy. He got out of the Navy about a month after he finished boot camp because "he did not like to be told what to do," Frances Albrecht said.

Brown was serving a three-month sentence in Musick for stealing a wallet and about $20 in cash from a Buena Park motel last June, Sheriff's Lt. Richard J. Olson said.

The car that Albrecht apparently left on Laguna Canyon Road just before the shooting is a 1972 Toyota registered in the name of his mother. It had been taken from an impound yard nearby earlier that morning, police said. Its right front tire was in shreds, and the wheel was badly damaged--which was probably why Albrecht abandoned the car and climbed into Brown's truck, which had been stolen in Long Beach, Spreine said.

Christopher Albrecht's 16-year-old fiancee, who would identify herself only as Janie, said Albrecht had a lot of friends in Laguna Beach. The family knew he had been shot after they saw a television news report of the incident and recognized Frances Albrecht's car.

Authorities would not give details of how Albrecht and Brown escaped from the honor farm or how they might have gotten to Long Beach or Laguna Beach.

Inside the damaged car, which was still on Laguna Canyon Road Wednesday afternoon, were empty beer cans, a hacksaw, a bald spare tire and a couple of cassette tapes--including one called "Youthquake" by the group Dead or Alive.

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