Man Killed by Deputy Had Outlined Plan to Die

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 26-year-old man who threatened a deputy with a paint ball gun and then was shot to death outlined his plans to die in notes left behind, sheriff's officials said Friday.

Notes found in Derek B. Myers' crashed car after the early morning chase Thursday show "he'd been thinking about this exact scenario," Sheriff's Cmdr. Bruce McDowell said.

Myers of Thousand Oaks was shot to death by a deputy. In the car, police said, they found 28 pages of rambling notes on a legal pad in which Myers outlined a plan to "pretend to pull a gun on police."

The notes also touched on subjects ranging from heartache over a former girlfriend to how his parents should dispose of his body, McDowell said.

The former Westlake High School Academic Decathlon club member had a long history of depression, authorities said. He had attempted suicide three times this week, twice by carbon monoxide poisoning, McDowell said. But in the notes, Myers said he had "moral problems" with suicide and preferred to be shot to death.

The district attorney's office is expected to review the case to conclude whether the shooting was justified.

Scott Streltzoff, the 26-year-old deputy who shot Myers, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation, standard for officer-involved shootings. Streltzoff has been a patrol deputy for about 1 1/2 years. He has not been involved in any previous shootings.

The deputy was devastated to learn Myers' gun fired paint balls, not bullets, sheriff's officials said.

"At that moment the weapon was brandished, he [the deputy] thought he was going to die," McDowell said. "He had absolutely no other choice."

The shooting occurred about 3 a.m. Thursday after Myers was seen driving erratically on California 23. Myers got off the freeway, failing to stop when the patrol deputy tried to pull him over, authorities said.

A brief pursuit began. It ended when Myers crashed his car into a retaining wall at the bottom of Sheffield Place, a steep dead-end street near Moorpark Road. Myers got out of the car, crouched low, with two fists gripping what appeared to be a shotgun, officials said.

Streltzoff got out of his car and fired, at the same time screaming for Myers to drop his gun. When Myers refused, the deputy fired several more shots, hitting Myers several times. Myers, who never fired, dropped to the ground, the paint ball gun still in his hands, sheriff's officials said. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Los Robles Regional Medical Center.

By menacing a lone deputy with such a realistic-appearing weapon, Myers apparently forced his own death, law enforcement authorities and paint ball gun owners said Friday. The black, 2-foot paint ball gun looked "remarkably like a pistol-gripped shotgun," according to a sheriff's statement.

"I was at the scene, with Fire Department lighting up the place, and we had to bend down to tell it was a paint gun," Chief Deputy Bob Brooks said. "The deputy saw only the barrel end, not the grip or the length. That's very threatening."

Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Higgason agreed.

"That was very nasty looking. It appeared to be a deadly weapon," he said. "And I'll tell you what, anybody points anything like a deadly weapon at me, I'll take action."

Added John Heague, who sells a variety of paint ball guns at Battlefield Adventures, his Ventura gun shop: "Your heart's beating 80 miles an hour. . . . At night, you wouldn't know what the guy had in his hand."

At the Ventura gun shop, paint ball players said they could see how a deputy could mistake a paint ball gun for the real thing after an adrenaline-pumping car chase in the middle of the night.

During daylight, gun enthusiasts said, it's less likely someone knowledgeable about firearms could be fooled. That is because paint ball guns usually have a metal air cartridge attached, in addition to having a plastic container fastened to the barrel to hold up to 200 gelatin capsules. They can fire up to 280 feet per second, but players say they rarely leave more than a bruise or welt.

In orchards from Ojai to Fillmore, ranchers often let paint ball players shoot for free. To avoid any trouble, players say they call the Sheriff's Department ahead of time to let them know they will be shooting the guns.

And many paint ball players soup up their guns to make them look realistic, by moving the plastic stocks or painting the barrels, said Carl Kossuth, a 23-year-old Oxnard man who was gun shopping in Ventura Friday.

"There's all sorts of after-market accessories," Kossuth said. "They used to look like toys. Now they look like real weapons."

At Myers' Thousand Oaks apartment, his roommate declined to discuss Myers' death, saying only that Myers had been unemployed the past several months. Myers had no criminal record, sheriff's officials said.

Myers' relatives could not be reached. Myers' sister called sheriff's officials to say the family was aware of his mental problems, and to ask that Streltzoff be told the shooting was not the deputy's fault, McDowell said.

During the days before his death, Myers showed common suicidal tendencies, officials said. For instance, he asked his father to sell his comic book collection and gave away other personal items, they said. Also in the car, police said, they found what they described as a collector's Samurai sword, one of Myers' favorite possessions.

Experts described such suicides as increasingly common. Any number of reasons can prompt a distraught person to goad a police officer to shoot him, such as a desire to be killed in a macho fashion or even to sound a final cry for help, they said.

"He could have had a secret hope they would recognize it wasn't real and get him help," said Elyn Saks, a professor of law and psychiatry at USC. "You can be very ill, but still calculating. It's a difficult problem, this question of people using others to kill them."

Correspondent Jason Takenouchi contributed to this story.

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