Investigators are trying to determine if a suspect’s path of bloodshed started with the slaying of an elderly Oregon man. They know it ended with his death in a police shootout on the Northern California coast, shortly after he killed a sheriff’s deputy.
The cause of the rampage remained unclear Thursday, Mendocino County, Calif., sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten said as colleagues mourned one of their own. “Today is much harder than yesterday to grasp,” he said.
In addition to the shootout in California, Eugene, Ore., police said Ricardo Antonio Chaney, 32, was also “more likely than not” responsible for the slaying of 79-year-old George Bundy Wasson, a retired University of Oregon anthropology instructor and Coquille Tribe elder. Eugene police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said he was found shot to death in his burning house early Wednesday morning.
McLaughlin would not divulge any more details of the slaying of Wasson, who lived alone. Chaney had been considered a person of interest by police because he knew Wasson’s family.
Less than an hour after the fire was discovered, police say Chaney pulled a gun on two men in their 20s outside their home near the university’s football stadium, located about five miles away, and sped off in their 2006 black BMW 330i sedan. Initially forced into the trunk, the men managed to escape in the parking lot and called 911.
Two weeks earlier, police had questioned Chaney after tracing a stolen cellphone to the location where he was living in his car next to a city park, according to the police website. After impounding the car, police searched it and found some methamphetamine, several guns, including a modified AR-15 assault-style rifle, and body armor. Chaney was booked into the jail, but released the same day without being charged.
The district attorney did not respond to an email asking why no charges were filed, but Lane County has had to lay off prosecutors due to declining funding.
About 10 hours after the carjacking, the sheriff’s office received a call from an employee of Confusion Hill, a California tourist attraction along Highway 101, about 180 miles north of San Francisco, that offers train rides through redwoods.
John Mills, 55, a front-desk worker, said he had found a man — later identified by authorities as Chaney — urinating outside a bathroom in a fenced park area. When Mills told him to leave, Chaney cursed and briefly drove away, but then returned with a double-barreled shotgun, Mills said.
“Things went sideways from there,” said Mills, who grabbed a baton and hit the shotgun as the attacker came through the entrance, causing the weapon to fire a round into the ground.
Mills said Chaney then pointed the shotgun directly at him. Mills said he dropped down and rolled into a kitchen door, as another round was fired.
Mills said he got a pistol from the kitchen and shot back at Chaney, who fled to his car and drove away.
“Unfortunately, my aim wasn’t too good. If I had been better, then he might not have made it to do what he did later,” Mills told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Chaney was spotted about an hour later by a deputy but got away during a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 mph. He was encountered by Del Fiorentino in Cleone, a rural area with a mix of homes, forest and open fields, a little before noon Wednesday, about 12 hours since Wasson was found dead.
Allman said Chaney opened fire with an AK-47-style assault rifle, spraying Del Fiorentino’s vehicle with bullets. Fort Bragg police Lt. John Naulty, who was searching for Chaney nearby, heard the gunfire and found Chaney going through the deputy’s vehicle, the sheriff said.
Chaney fired six or seven rounds at Naulty, who returned fire, Allman said. Chaney was later found dead.
Del Fiorentino, once a wrestling coach at Fort Bragg High School, began as a deputy with Mendocino County in 1988. He spent 10 years with the Fort Bragg Police Department before returning to the sheriff’s office in 2000.
The investigation was turned over to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s office and it could take weeks before any findings are released, spokesman Mike Geniella said. Autopsies were scheduled for Friday.
Associated Press writers Terry Collins and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.