A man who had been suspended from his job Tuesday because of allegations that he sexually harassed a female co-worker led police on a brief, high-speed chase before he shot and wounded a California Highway Patrol officer and was shot to death by a sheriff's deputy, officials said.
Worried that the suspended employee, Corey P. Scherkenbach, 23, might be violent and on drugs, his supervisor called the called the Sheriff's Department to make sure he left the workplace peacefully. But as a deputy approached him at the plant, located in the east San Diego suburb of Santee, Scherkenbach angrily jumped into his truck and sped off.
"He was a good worker, but he couldn't keep his hands to himself and we finally had to do something about it," said Dennis Pellegrino, general manager of Ketema Process Equipment Division, a branch of Ketema Inc. "We never expected this would happen. We're all pretty shook up."
CHP Officer Christina Berblinger, 28, a seven-year veteran, was taken to a hospital with a gunshot wound in her right shoulder and was listed in satisfactory condition. The bullet entered her shoulder just above her bulletproof vest, ricocheted downward and came out between her ribs, a CHP spokesman said.
Scherkenbach, a five-year employee at Ketema, which makes centrifuges and filters for chemical and pharmaceutical companies, was pronounced dead at the scene by the county medical examiner. A 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol was found in his lap.
CHP and Sheriff's Department spokesmen said Scherkenbach led officers on a short and circular chase through the streets of the industrial park where Ketema is located. Ironically, the chase ended with gunshots in the dead-end street in front of Ketema.
Pellegrino said Scherkenbach, who worked as a semiskilled polisher, had made suggestive remarks to a female co-worker "and touched her on the wrist." He had been suspended about nine months ago over allegations of sexual harassment.
"He came to work every day and did his job, but we had this other problem with him," Pellegrino said. "We had disciplined him and were worried something might happen. You just can't do that to women on the job and get away with it anymore."
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Glenn Revell said deputies had been called "because the company thought he might have a gun in his truck and might be violent."
Before a deputy could talk to him, Scherkenbach reportedly drove off at high speed and on the wrong side of the street. "He was driving absolutely, totally crazy," CHP spokesman Jerry Barber said.
Within minutes, Scherkenbach was being followed by two CHP cars and two sheriff's cars. When Berblinger drove alongside, the man shot at her window, shattering it and wounding her, spokesmen said.
"We saw him leave and then five minutes later here he comes again, being chased and shooting at the cops," Pellegrino said. "Some of the employees saw it. Bang-bang and it was over."
Scherkenbach and a deputy exchanged gunfire after a sheriff's car rammed the truck. The name of the deputy who killed Scherkenbach was not immediately available. The deputy will be put on administrative duty while the incident is investigated, officials said.