CLEONE (AP) — The suspect in the fatal shooting of a Northern California sheriff’s deputy carjacked two people at gunpoint in Oregon and exchanged gunfire with the owner of a tourist attraction before his confrontation with the deputy, authorities said.
Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino, 48, died on Wednesday in the shootout that happened around noon, the sheriff’s office announced. The suspect, Ricardo Antonio Chaney, 32, of Oregon, also died in an exchange of gunfire with a police officer and not of a suicide as authorities had initially reported, Sheriff Tom Allman said on Wednesday night. Allman spoke earlier at a news conference in Fort Bragg near the site of the deputy’s slaying.
“I wish you weren’t here, and I wish I wasn’t here,” a tearful Allman said.
The incident began in Eugene, Ore., early Wednesday, when authorities said Chaney stole a black BMW and forced the car’s occupants into the trunk, the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported. The occupants, who had not been located as of Wednesday night, may have escaped or been freed at some point, Allman said.
Around 10:30 a.m., the sheriff’s office received a call from the owner of Confusion Hill, a tourist destination along Highway 101 north of Leggett, about 400 miles south of Eugene. John Mills, 55, told the Press Democrat he had found Chaney urinating within a fenced park area.
When Mills told him to leave, he cursed, drove away, but then returned with a shotgun, Mills said. Mills, who had grabbed a baton, hit the shotgun as Chaney came through the entrance, causing the weapon to discharge, he told the Press Democrat. Chaney fired again through the door before fleeing to his car and driving away.
“I was pissed,” Mills said. “I wanted his head on a pike.”
Mills said he was able to get off one shot at Chaney from a handgun. Sheriff’s officials said Chaney was likely not hit.
Chaney was spotted a short time later by a sheriff’s deputy, but got away during a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 mph, according to sheriff’s officials. Del Fiorentino encountered him a little before noon just north of Fort Bragg in Cleone, a rural area that is a mix of homes, forest and open fields.
Chaney opened fire with an AK-47-style assault rifle, spraying Del Fiorentino’s vehicle with bullets, Allman said. Lt. John Naulty, a Fort Bragg police officer who was searching for Chaney nearby, heard the gunfire and arrived at the scene to find Chaney going through the deputy’s vehicle.
Allman said Chaney fired six or seven rounds at Naulty, who returned fire. Chaney was later found dead.
U.S. Highway 1 near MacKerricher State Park was closed during the search for Chaney, and the park evacuated, the Press Democrat reported. School officials also kept students who live in the Cleone area on campus as a precaution, as law enforcement vehicles swarmed the area.
What prompted Chaney’s alleged rampage was not clear. He had a run-in with law enforcement on March 6, when police stopped his vehicle and found that he had no vehicle insurance. They also discovered firearms, including a modified AR-15, and body armor in the glove box and trunk, according to The Register-Guard of Eugene. Citing police records, the paper said Chaney was arrested and released the same day.
Del Fiorentino, once a wrestling coach at Fort Bragg High School, began as a deputy with Mendocino County in 1988, spent 10 years with the Fort Bragg Police Department and returned to the sheriff’s office in 2000.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris paid tribute to the deputy late Wednesday night.
“His tragic death is a stark reminder of the danger our brave men and women in law enforcement face every day to keep our communities safe. Deputy Del Fiorentino will never be forgotten by the people of California,” Harris said in a statement.
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