February 14, 2013

Sheriff: Cabin not purposely burned in firefight

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials find a charred body believed to be that of Christopher Dorner, in the ruins of the cabin that erupted in flames.

The Associated Press

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. — There was no question. The man standing before Rick Heltebrake on a rural mountain road was Christopher Dorner.

Christopher Dorner
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Christoper Dorner is suspected of three murders and three attempted murders.

AP

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In this image taken from video provided by KABC-TV, the cabin in Big Bear, Calif. where ex-Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner is believed to be barricaded inside is in flames Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/KABC-TV)

Additional Photos Below

Key events in Dorner manhunt

Below are key events in the expansive, ongoing manhunt for Christopher Dorner, the fired Los Angeles police officer suspected of killing three people — including a police officer in Southern California — and posting a manifesto on Facebook outlining plans to kill the families of those he says have wronged him, all times approximate:

• Sunday, Feb. 3: An assistant women's college basketball coach and her fiance are found shot to death in their car in Irvine, Calif. Police learn later the woman was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain who represented Dorner in disciplinary hearings that resulted in his dismissal from the force.

• Monday, Feb. 4: Some of Dorner's belongings, including police equipment, are found in a trash bin in suburban San Diego, linking him to Irvine killings.

• Wednesday, Feb. 6: Police announce finding Dorner's manifesto online.

• 10:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 6: A man matching Dorner's description makes a failed attempt to steal a boat from a San Diego marina. An 81-year-old man on the vessel is tied up but otherwise unharmed.

• 1:30 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 7: LAPD officers, protecting a person named in the manifesto, chase a vehicle they believe is Dorner's. One officer is grazed in the forehead by a bullet during a shootout, and the gunman flees.

A short time later, a shooter believed to be Dorner ambushes two Riverside police officers during a routine patrol. One officer is killed, and the other critically injured.• 2:20 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 7: A shuttle bus driver turns in a wallet with an LAPD badge and a picture ID of Dorner to San Diego police. The wallet was found fewer than five miles from the boat, near San Diego International Airport.

• 5 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 7: LAPD officers guarding a manifesto target in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance open fire on a truck they mistakenly believe to be Dorner's. A mother and daughter delivering the newspaper are injured.

A short time later, Torrance police are involved in a second shooting involving a different truck they also mistake for Dorner's. Nobody is hurt.

• 8:35 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 7: Police find a burned-out pickup truck near the Big Bear ski area in the San Bernardino Mountains. Six hours later, authorities identify it as Dorner's.

• 9:40 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 7: Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego is locked down after a Navy worker reports seeing someone who resembles Dorner. Military officials later said Dorner had indeed checked into a hotel on base earlier in the week — on Tuesday — but had left on Wednesday.

• 4 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 7: Authorities search a Las Vegas-area home belonging to Dorner and leave with several boxes of items. They say no weapons were found but decline to disclose what was discovered.

• Friday, Feb. 8: Dozens of searchers hunt for Dorner in the freezing, snowy San Bernardino Mountains after losing his footprints near the site where the truck was found. Authorities search Dorner's mother's house in La Palma and collect 10 bags of evidence and also take five electronic items for examination. Police also search a storage locker in Buena Park.

• Saturday, Feb. 9: Helicopters equipped with heat-seeking technology resume search for Dorner in the mountains near Big Bear. Authorities reveal that weapons and camping gear were found in Dorner's burned truck.

• Sunday, Feb. 10: Authorities announce $1 million reward for information leading to Dorner's arrest.

• Monday, Feb. 11: Riverside County prosecutors charge Dorner with murdering a police officer and the attempted murder of three other officers in a potential death penalty case. Authorities receive more than 700 tips since the reward was announced.

• Thursday, Feb. 12: A person believed to be Dorner exchanges gunfire with Southern California authorities in the San Bernardino Mountains. Cabin catches on fire, and Dorner is believed to be dead.

Clad in camouflage from head to toe and wearing a bulletproof vest packed with ammunition, the most wanted man in America was just a few feet away, having emerged from a grove of trees holding a large assault-style rifle.

As teams of officers who had sought the fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer for a week were closing in, Dorner pointed the gun at Heltebrake and ordered him out of his truck.

"I don't want to hurt you. Start walking and take your dog," Heltebrake recalled Dorner saying during the carjacking Tuesday.

The man, who wasn't lugging any gear, got into the truck and drove away. Heltebrake, with his 3-year-old Dalmatian Suni in tow, called police when he heard a volley of gunfire erupt soon after, and then hid behind a tree.

A short time later, police caught up with the man they believe was Dorner, surrounding a cabin where he'd taken refuge after crashing Heltebrake's truck in the San Bernardino Mountains 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

A gunfight ensued in which one sheriff's deputy was killed and another wounded. After the firefight ended, a SWAT team using an armored vehicle broke out the cabin's windows and began knocking down walls. A fire started, and later, charred remains believed to be Dorner's were found.

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Wednesday the fire was not set on purpose.

"We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out," he said.

His deputies lobbed pyrotechnic tear gas into the cabin, and it erupted in flames, he said. McMahon did not say directly that the tear gas started the blaze, and the cause of the fire was under investigation.

The sheriff said authorities have not positively identified the remains. However, all evidence points to it being Dorner, he said, and the manhunt is considered over.

A wallet and personal items, including a California driver's license with the name Christopher Dorner were found in the cabin debris, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probe.

The tourist community of Big Bear Lake that was the focus of the intensive manhunt was returning to normalcy Wednesday, and residents were sharing stories of the last weeks' events. None was more dramatic than Heltebrake's.

He said he wasn't panicked in his meeting with Dorner because he didn't feel the fugitive wanted to hurt him. "He wasn't wild-eyed, just almost professional," he said. "He was on a mission."

"It was clear I wasn't part of his agenda and there were other people down the road that were part of his agenda," he said.

Dorner, 33, had said in a rant that authorities believe he posted on Facebook last week that he expected to die, with the police chasing him, as he carried out a revenge campaign against the Los Angeles Police Department for firing him.

The end came in the same mountain range where Dorner's trail went cold six days earlier, after his pickup truck — with guns and camping gear inside — was found abandoned and on fire near Big Bear Lake.

His footprints led away from the truck and vanished on frozen soil.

Deputies searched hundreds of cabins in the area and then, in a blinding snowstorm, SWAT teams with bloodhounds and high-tech equipment in tow widened their search.

Authorities for the most part looked at cabins boarded up for the winter, said Dan Sforza, assistant chief of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and often didn't enter occupied homes where nothing appeared amiss.

One of the major remaining questions is how Dorner eluded such an intensive search. Remarkably, the cabin where he hid out at least part of the time was a stone's throw from the searchers' command post.

San Bernardino County Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky said Wednesday that searchers did not see any forced entry to the cabin when it was checked. But he could not provide details about exactly when the check was made, and did not say whether it ever was re-checked.

Dorner's cover was blown Tuesday when two women arrived to clean the cabin, said Lt. Patrick Foy of the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

With three killings behind him and law enforcement still on the hunt, Dorner didn't shoot them. Instead, he tied up the women and stole their purple Nissan. Sparing the housekeepers ultimately would start the chain of events that would lead to his undoing.

One of the women broke free and called 911, Foy said, and the chase was on.

About 20 miles away, two game wardens spotted the car on a meandering road along a scenic lake behind two school buses, and deputies planned to throw down spike strips to puncture the vehicle's tires, authorities said.

Dorner seemed to anticipate the move, pulling close behind the buses to give officers no space to drop the strips, Foy said. Dorner had warned — even boasted — in the rant that he knew police tactics and techniques as well as the officers pursuing him.

The purple Nissan then disappeared.

Heltebrake, a ranger who takes care of a Boy Scout camp nearby, said he just had lunch and was checking the perimeter of the camp for anything out of the ordinary when he saw someone emerge from the trees, and instantly recognized Dorner.

Meantime, officers trying to find the fugitive quickly realized he must have turned onto a side road, but for a few minutes nobody involved in the chase knew he had changed vehicles.

Then game wardens saw Heltebrake's truck making erratic moves and saw a man fitting Dorner's description behind the wheel. And then the shooting started.

Dorner fired at wardens as he drove. A warden then stopped his vehicle and fired multiple rounds at the truck from his high-powered, semi-automatic rifle. He apparently missed.

"If he had been struck it would have caused so much damage immediately that he (the warden) probably would have known," Foy said.

Out of options after crashing the pickup, Dorner made a break for a cabin and barricaded himself inside.

With the standoff under way, officers lobbed tear gas canisters into the cabin. A single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

San Bernardino Sheriff's Deputy Jeremiah MacKay was killed, and another deputy, Alexander Collins, was wounded at the cabin. MacKay, a detective who had been with the department 15 years, had a wife, a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son, sheriff's officials said.

Police said Dorner began his run Feb. 6 after they connected the Feb. 3 slayings of a former Los Angeles police captain's daughter and her fiance with his angry manifesto.

Dorner blamed former Capt. Randal Quan for providing poor representation before a police disciplinary board that fired him for filing a false report. Dorner, who is black, claimed he was the subject of racism by the department and was targeted for reporting misconduct within the department.

House after police named Dorner as a suspect in the double murder, he shot at two LAPD officers, grazing one in the head, and then ambushed two Riverside officers, killing Officer Michael Crain. His funeral was Wednesday.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who initially dismissed Dorner's allegations, has said he would reopen the investigation into his firing — not to appease the ex-officer, but to restore confidence in the black community, which had a tense relationship with police that has improved in recent years.

A $1 million reward had been offered for Dorner's capture and conviction. LAPD Officer Alex Martinez said the mayor's office will determine if the money is paid out.

"I don't think there's going to be a reward," he said. "Remember, it's capture and conviction. There was no capture and no conviction. It's kind of a no-brainer."

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Additional Photos

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Law enforcement officials respond after Christopher Dorner, the fugitive ex-Los Angeles cop sought in three killings, engaged in a shootout with authorities that wounded two officers in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear Lake, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/The Sun, Rachel Luna) MANDATORY CREDIT

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San Bernardino County Sheriff's officer Ken Owens searches a home for former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner in Big Bear Lake, Calif, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013. The hunt for the former Los Angeles police officer suspected in three killings entered a fourth day in snow-covered mountains Sunday, a day after the police chief ordered a review of the disciplinary case that led to the fugitive's firing and new details emerged of the evidence he left behind. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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A San Bernardino County Sheriff SWAT team returns to the command post at Bear Mountain near Big Bear Lake, Calif. after searching for Christopher Jordan Dorner on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. Search conditions have been hampered by a heavy winter storm in the area. Dorner, a former Los Angeles police officer, is accused of carrying out a killing spree because he felt he was unfairly fired from his job. (AP Photo/Pool, The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Will Lester)

Rick Heltebrake
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Rick Heltebrake, 61, describes how fugitive Christopher Dorner hijacked his pickup truck Tuesday in California’s San Bernardino National Forest. Remains believed to be Dorner’s were later found in a burned-out cabin.

The Associated Press

  


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