Friends Recall Man Slain in Siege as Offbeat Surfer

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Sheriff's officials confirmed Thursday that the man who reportedly shot an acquaintance to death and then held off police for seven hours before they killed him was Thomas Charles Cayer, a local surfer who was known throughout this beach city for the offbeat camper he drove.

The acquaintance was identified as Lynn Emerson Channell, 54, who lived near Cayer in a recreational vehicle storage yard where the shooting occurred. Authorities said Cayer, 45, shot Channell in the head several times, killing him instantly. The motive remains a mystery.

The shootings confounded local residents, who described Cayer as a gentle man who never caused trouble.

"He was a free spirit a real eccentric," said downtown resident Larry Ethridge, who had known Cayer for the past 20 years. "He was always looking for something better. . . . He was always looking for that utopia."

Huntington Beach police were called at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday about shots fired in the RV yard in the 7000 block of Woodwind Drive, an industrial area near Huntington Central Park.

Cayer had lived in his green, makeshift camper in the yard for about six months, said Lt. Richard J. Olson, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the deaths along with the county district attorney's office, as part of a regional agreement on officer-involved shootings.

Channell had lived in the yard since 1975, Olson said.

Arriving police were met with gunfire from Cayer's green camper, authorities said. The police Special Weapons and Tactics team was called, and the seven-hour ordeal began, with Cayer periodically peeking from a vent on top of his camper and firing rounds at a police helicopter and the SWAT officers. During the standoff, police estimated, he fired more than 150 rounds.

But at 5:45 a.m., when Cayer stuck his upper body out of the camper's vent to fire a burst of rounds, SWAT sharpshooters opened fire, fatally striking him several times in the head.

A 12-gauge shotgun was found in the camper, and a .30-caliber M-1 semiautomatic carbine was beneath Cayer's body, Olson said. Police also found more than 300 rounds of ammunition for the carbine and 25 shotgun shells.

Channell's body was found near a tractor-trailer rig.

"We do not know what the motive is," Olson said. "In fact, we may never know what went on."

Ethridge said he and Cayer often sat for hours discussing philosophy at a downtown coffee shop. Cayer would also disappear for months or even a year at a time.

"He'd go on the road and come back with wild, fantastic stories," Ethridge said.

Local resident Jerry Person agreed.

"He was kind of a strange guy," Person said Thursday. "He kept to himself. He didn't open up at all. (But) he didn't seem violent at all, that I know of."

Other residents who did not normally speak to Cayer knew him by his trademark camper, which looked more like a shack on wheels and had solar panels and wind vanes on the sides. It was often seen in beach parking lots or cruising up Main Street.

"I remember seeing it around, " said Paul Vetri, a downtown realtor, "and we're down here a lot."

Ethridge said the last time he had spoken with Cayer, he seemed "dead set" against firearms.

He could not explain what may have driven his old friend, a perennial loner, to violence.

"If anything threw him over the edge, it was loneliness," Ethridge said. "He was always looking for his heaven on earth. He finally found it, I guess."

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