The man who authorities say engaged officers in a violent gun battle during a traffic stop off the 215 Freeway in Riverside, killing one California Highway Patrol officer and wounding two others, was identified Tuesday as 49-year-old Aaron Luther.
Luther, who died in Monday’s shootout, has a lengthy criminal record dating to the late 1980s in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, according to public records.
His convictions include disturbing the peace, vandalism, battery, stalking, unlawful possession of a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon and corporal injury on a spouse. He pleaded guilty to burglary charges and attempted second-degree murder with a sentencing enhancement for use of a firearm in Los Angeles County in 1994 after he was accused of trying to kill a man three months earlier, according to court records.
He was sentenced to 12 years in state prison, according to the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, and was paroled in 2004.
Authorities have not determined a motive in Monday’s shooting.
Luther’s father, Dennis Luther, told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that his son was a “desperate man” and had recently been depressed.
“I think he just thought he didn’t have much to live for,” Dennis Luther said. “This might just have been suicide by the police. It’s just unfortunate that he happened to hurt anybody but himself.”
What began as a typical traffic stop Monday evening quickly turned deadly, prompting a massive response from law enforcement agencies across the region.
The situation began at 5:35 p.m. when CHP Officer Andre Moye stopped Luther, who was driving a white GMC pickup, at the Eastridge Avenue/Eucalyptus Avenue offramp. At some point during the traffic stop — for reasons not yet known — Moye decided to impound the man’s vehicle and called for a tow truck, said CHP Inland Division Assistant Chief Scott Parker.
It was not immediately clear where Luther was heading when he was stopped. While Moye was filling out paperwork, the man got a rifle from his truck and started shooting at the officer, Parker said.
“We don’t know why” the shooting began, Riverside police spokesman Ryan Railsback said. “That is all going to be part of this lengthy investigation.”
Moye returned fire, and even though he had been shot, he was able to radio for help. Three other CHP officers soon arrived, followed by three deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and at least one officer from the Riverside Police Department, authorities said.
Moye, 34, was airlifted to Riverside University Health System Medical Center, where he died. Another officer — a four-year veteran of the CHP — was critically injured but was conscious and talking Tuesday. A third CHP officer, who has been with the agency for six years, was wounded in the leg during the gunfight. Neither was identified. Both are expected to recover, CHP Inland Division Chief Bill Dance said.
“This incident shows just how dangerous the job of California Highway Patrol and law enforcement is in general,” Dance said Tuesday. “People talk about routine stops, but there are no routine stops, as this incident proves.”
Gabriela Mendoza, 21, was chatting with her fiancé while driving to class at Platt College when she got stuck in traffic near the 215 Freeway overpass. When she looked to her right, she saw a man holding a rifle and advancing toward a CHP cruiser. She hung up the phone and started recording.
The 11-minute video shows CHP officers huddled behind a cruiser and engaged in a gun battle.
“The way he was holding the gun and dodging bullets,” Mendoza said of the gunman, “it looked like he had some kind of training. He looked like he knew what he was doing.”
Eventually, the armed man disappears from view and a helicopter arrives to airlift Moye to the hospital, the video shows.
Dozens of rounds were fired over the course of the gunfight. Investigators have not publicly identified the type of rifle used by the shooter. However, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told The Times that Luther was armed with an AR-15-style rifle that had modifications — a weapon that was illegal for him to possess.
Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz said the gun battle was “long and horrific.” Officials say the investigation likely will span several days.
Local investigators initially thought Luther had ties to the Vagos motorcycle gang, one of the nation’s largest and most dangerous outlaw biker gangs, alongside Hell’s Angels and the Mongols.
However, federal experts familiar with the Vagos say he is not a member.
Authorities had a large contingent of officers standing guard late Monday outside the hospital in Moreno Valley where their colleagues were being treated, in part because of concerns surrounding the shooter’s supposed ties to the Vagos.
“When we’re told of that information in the beginning, that plays into part of why we made the decision to have that security there,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said.
The motorcycle gang, which has a history of threatening violence against law enforcement, was founded in California in the 1960s and now claims 1,000 members in several chapters throughout the U.S., federal agents say.
Moye’s death prompted an outpouring of support from law enforcement agencies across California.
Dozens of officers stood in salute outside the hospital late Monday as Moye’s body was loaded into a hearse and taken to the coroner’s office. Some embraced as they stood outside the medical center.
Moye was a CHP officer for almost three years and was assigned to the Riverside office after graduating from the CHP Academy on March 3, 2017. He previously worked as an electrician but had dreamed of being an officer since he was a child.
He’d been a motorcycle officer for about a year, an assignment that thrilled him. Moye passed challenging training classes with the motor squad with flying colors on the first try, Dance said.
“He was a very caring and giving person,” Dance said. “He was the type of guy everybody likes.”
Moye is survived by his wife, Sara, his parents, two brothers, two sisters and a large extended family, Dance said.
The slain officer had an affinity for dirt bikes and traveling, according to his social media accounts. Videos posted to his YouTube account show him and his wife zip lining and snorkeling during a vacation in 2014 in the Riviera Maya and riding wave runners through the canyons at Lake Powell a year later. In one video, Moye grins while suspended on a zip line high above the trees in Mexico.
Moye is the third officer to be shot and killed in Southern California in the past two months.
In June, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano was gunned down inside a Jack in the Box in Alhambra. He died two days later. Last month, off-duty LAPD Officer Juan Jose Diaz was shot after confronting someone tagging a wall outside a taco stand while grabbing a bite to eat with his girlfriend and her two brothers.
“Andre had a servant’s heart, and that’s why he was a member of this organization,” Dance said. “He was an outstanding individual, and he will be deeply missed by the California Highway Patrol.”
We are joining our CHP partners across the state today as we mourn the tragic loss of CHP officer Andre Moye. We are keeping him, his family, and the responding officers that were injured in our thoughts as we stand shoulder to shoulder with the law enforcement community. pic.twitter.com/lOREDSzSML— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) August 13, 2019