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CHP Officer Facing Probe Found Dead

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A decorated California Highway Patrol officer has apparently committed suicide, a month after his arrest in the alleged rape of a woman while on his graveyard shift, authorities announced Thursday.

The officer, James W. Pitsor, was found dead late Wednesday afternoon of a single shot from a rifle, said Sgt. Tom Neely of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Pitsor’s body was discovered by joggers a few feet from where he had parked his car along a rural road east of Barstow, Neely said.

The exact cause of death and verification that Pitsor killed himself are pending an autopsy, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said, but there were no signs of foul play at the scene.

Pitsor, a 27-year veteran of the CHP, was arrested by sheriff’s detectives last month after a woman said he had offered her a ride after she left a Barstow bar at closing time, only to drive her 20 miles west of town and rape her.

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The woman reported her allegation to the Sheriff’s Department the next day and was able to identify Pitsor because he was in uniform--including wearing his name tag--when he allegedly picked her up, authorities said.

Investigators arrested Pitsor after a search of his home and patrol car turned up unspecified evidence.

Pitsor, a sergeant and the 1995 officer of the year in the Barstow station--where he had worked for about 17 years--was fired by the CHP in the wake of the charges, and was to be arraigned next week. He was free on $25,000 bail.

His firing took effect Monday, a day after his 50th birthday.

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CHP Capt. J.M. Fogerty, commander of the Barstow station, said Pitsor’s arrest and subsequent death have taken a toll on fellow officers.

“The reality of what has happened, culminating in [Wednesday’s] events, is sobering,” he said. “Every employee is deeply affected. The arrest and charges against a co-worker were shocking. [The] sad conclusion is disheartening to all of us who knew Sgt. Pitsor. Our hearts go out to his family.”

Pitsor was married and had two children.

The charges against him were the latest to blemish the Barstow station.

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Officer George M. Gwaltney is serving a 90-year federal prison term for the 1982 kidnapping, rape and murder of a 23-year-old Van Nuys woman who was traveling home along Interstate 15 from Las Vegas. He stopped her for speeding, handcuffed her, raped her and then shot her to death.

Last week, Jim Carl Burchett, who had retired in 1983 as the Barstow captain, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to one count of conspiracy to distribute and receive pornography and seven counts of receipt of child pornography. He will be sentenced April 1, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Burchett served a state prison term after a 1993 state conviction for attempted lewd conduct with a child.


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