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Deputies Respond to Campground Disturbance Call : Fullerton Man Dies in Shoot-Out With Officers

Times Staff Writer

A Fullerton man, reportedly on a weekend drinking and target-shooting spree in the Angeles National Forest, died early Sunday morning in a shoot-out with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, who were responding to reports of a campground disturbance.

Christopher T. Hefner, 30, an appliance company warehouse worker, was declared dead at the scene of the incident, which began shortly before 2 a.m. in the Coldbrook campground near Crystal Lake in the San Gabriel Mountains above Azusa. The three deputies involved in the shooting were not injured. Their names were not released.

A companion of Hefner’s, Gerald Taber, 27, whose address was unknown, was arrested at the scene for allegedly assaulting a campground couple with a handgun, but he was released from the Los Angeles County Jail Sunday night after the couple decided not to pursue charges.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bryan Williams provided this account of the incident:

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Nicholas Bruinsma, 30, of Cerritos, and his girlfriend, Geneva Viscelli, 27, of Long Beach, had been arguing loudly when a man walked up to their campsite, identified himself as a police officer and put a pistol to Bruinsma’s head.

When the girlfriend demanded to see police identification, the intruder left. Another camper then telephoned the Walnut Creek sheriff’s substation and reported a disturbance with an armed man in the campground, Williams said.

When four deputies arrived, Viscelli directed them to a hiking path where she had last seen the man with the gun. As deputies walked down the path, they saw a man standing by a tree with a gun in his hand. Williams said the deputies ordered the man to drop his gun. Instead, he pointed it at deputies and started firing.

Deputies Return Fire

Three of the deputies returned fire as the man, using both a .45-caliber automatic pistol and a .38-caliber revolver, continued shooting at them until he was fatally wounded by their gunfire, Williams said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Kent Chausse said only two rounds were left in each of the dead man’s handguns. Chausse said the man’s companion, Taber, was arrested without incident nearby and was booked on suspicion of assaulting the couple with a gun. He was held in lieu of $12,000 bail, but was released when the couple refused to file a complaint, Chausse said.

Chausse attributed the incident to a volatile combination of alcohol and guns. He said the two men had been drinking heavily and apparently were in the mountains to practice shooting their guns.

Hefner’s neighbors in a Fullerton apartment complex, where he lived with a girlfriend, expressed shock Sunday at news of the fatal shooting. They said the sheriff’s account of Hefner’s behavior seemed out of character for the man they knew.

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“He seemed like a, you know, all right guy,” said next-door neighbor George Parra, 26. “He never got loud or nothing with me. He really kept to himself.”

The incident was the latest in a continuing series of crimes and shootings in the heavily congested national forest, which attracts about 27 million visitors a year.

One of the biggest problems in the forest, sheriff’s and forestry officials say, is the proliferation of target shooters who fire their weapons in unauthorized areas, damaging the environment and threatening passers-by. Shooting accidents occur with relative frequency throughout the forest, they said.

“On weekends, it’s jammed and a lot of folks carry guns up there,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Shearer, watch commander at the Walnut Creek substation, which has jurisdiction over Coldbrook and other Angeles Forest campsites. “There’s always a lot of activity up there.”

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