Gun Battle Takes Life of Fugitive : Murder Suspect Fired First While Crossing at Border, Agents Say

Times Staff Writers

The prime suspect in the murder of an Orange County arson investigator was shot and killed by U.S. Customs agents after he suddenly opened fire on them during a routine check at the port of entry Sunday morning.

K.C. Janulaitis, 42, managed to flee in his car after suffering bullet wounds in the head and chest, but crashed his car over an embankment after being chased by authorities for about a mile on Interstate 805. He was pronounced dead on arrival at UC San Diego Medical Center, where he was brought by Life Flight helicopter after the accident.

The San Clemente man was wanted in connection with the Saturday morning murder of Dennis J. Donelson, 46, and the wounding of 31-year-old Barbara Lynn Clark in her San Juan Capistrano apartment.

Donelson died at Mission Community Hospital in Mission Viejo while undergoing surgery for a single gunshot wound to the lower abdomen. Clark, 31, who lived in the apartment in the 26500 block of Camino de Vista, was in fair condition Sunday at the same hospital, a spokeswoman said. She was shot once in the side.


Orange County authorities said the double shooting occurred at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, when a man fired several shots into an open bedroom window.

San Diego Police Lt. William Skinner said Janulaitis was shot once in the head Sunday after he fired a handgun at two U.S. Customs agents who tried to detain him at the San Ysidro border crossing as he entered the country from Mexico. A county coroner’s deputy said that Janulaitis also suffered gunshot wounds to the torso. The exact cause of his death will be established by an autopsy.

Three border agents were slightly injured by “shrapnel,” which could have been shards of metal or concrete, or fragments of bullets, said San Diego Police Sgt. Micki Farrell.

Skinner said the border agents stopped Janulaitis at 11:20 a.m. on a routine inspection. A computer check of the silver Chevrolet Camaro that Janulaitis was driving alerted agents that he was wanted and presumed to be both armed and dangerous, he said.


“At that point, he fired at the agents, and the agents returned fire,” Skinner said.

After the exchange of gunfire, Janulaitis sped away while customs agents, San Diego police and U.S. Border Patrol agents pursued him on Interstate 805, Skinner said, adding that a mile into the chase, Janulaitis’ car swerved and crashed down an embankment.

Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Russ Elsner said Janulaitis was positively identified through a fingerprint check.

Meanwhile, Orange County Fire Department officials said Sunday that Donelson was on duty when he was killed but declined to elaborate on why he was in Clark’s apartment.

After shots were fired in her bedroom window early Saturday, Clark told neighbors who rushed to her aid that Janulaitis was responsible. Neighbors Scott and Yvonne Bates also said they saw a silver Camaro, which Clark had described as belonging to the suspect, leaving the apartment complex after they heard gunshots and Clark’s screams for help.

The Bates couple, who treated Clark before an ambulance arrived, also said that Clark had told them that she and Donelson were investigating Janulaitis as a suspect in the burning of a building she owned.

But neither the Sheriff’s Department nor the Orange County Fire Department would confirm Sunday that Donelson was investigating Janulaitis’ possible involvement in an arson case.

One high-ranking fire official, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, said department officials are being very circumspect about details of the investigation into Donelson’s murder.


“All I can say is that, internally, they are keeping it very close to the vest,” the officer said. “There is a very intense investigation going on . . . very intense.”

Elsner, the Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said Clark had not been questioned yet by investigators.

Donelson, a 19-year veteran of the fire services, will be buried at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Cypress at 10 a.m. Wednesday. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn, who lived with him in Seal Beach, and their children: son Dean, 23, of Long Beach, and daughters Debra, 20, and Jensina, 8, both of Seal Beach.