LAGUNA HILLS : Sheriff's Search for Alleged Car Thieves

Sheriff's deputies were searching Tuesday for two alleged car thieves, one of whom shot a deputy in the heel of his boot during an exchange of gunfire and then sped off in a patrol car, authorities said.

The patrol car was abandoned several miles away and recovered by authorities. The deputy was not injured.

The incident occurred about 11:30 p.m. Monday. The two men allegedly were stealing a car by pushing it with a pickup truck when a deputy stopped them for a traffic check, said Lt. Dick Olson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. One man was driving a blue pickup with a camper shell, pushing another man in a white Volkswagen Rabbit, northbound on Moulton Parkway near Via Lomas.

As the deputy approached the stopped vehicles, the driver of the Volkswagen walked toward him, Olson said. Meanwhile, another deputy arrived on the scene and talked to the truck driver, who stayed inside his vehicle.

The first deputy "got suspicious" and was about to pat down the Volkswagen driver to check for weapons when the man reached into his waistband and pulled out a handgun, Olson said. The deputy yelled, "Gun!" and jumped behind a patrol car for cover, according to Olson.

The other deputy turned, saw the Volkswagen driver pointing his gun at the first deputy, drew out his weapon and shot at the gunman, Olson said. The Volkswagen driver fired back but only hit the deputy's boot, he said.

The truck driver then sped off, while the gunman hopped in the first deputy's patrol car and raced off. Deputies tried to stop the gunman by shooting after the patrol car but were unsuccessful. The deputies then got into the remaining patrol car and chased after the two men on Moulton Parkway, but they lost sight of the truck and the stolen patrol car near Glenwood Drive, Olson said.

Fifteen minutes later, another deputy found the patrol car abandoned several miles away in Aliso Viejo, on Falcon Crest Lane near Sanderling Lane.

The Volkswagen turned out to belong to a resident on Moulton Parkway, in the neighborhood where the deputy first spotted the two men, Olson said.

"The people didn't even know it was being stolen," Olson said. The two men "were pushing it to be quiet so they could get it to where they could punch the ignition."

Deputies found the pickup later in the 300 block of Club Drive in Laguna Beach.

They do not know whether the two men later joined up or are still separated.

The recovered patrol car was not damaged, he said.

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