Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fugitive ex-cop hid in plain sight

Holed up near police command post

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BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. -- Police scoured mountain peaks for days, using everything from bloodhounds to high-tech helicopters in their manhunt for a revenge-seeking ex-cop. They had no idea he was hiding among them, holed up in a vacation cabin across the street from their command post.

It was there Christopher Dorner apparently took refuge last Thursday, four days after beginning a deadly rampage that would claim four lives.

The search ended Tuesday when a man believed to be Dorner bolted from hiding, stole two cars, barricaded himself in a vacant cabin and mounted a last stand in a furious shootout in which he killed one sheriff's deputy and wounded another before the building erupted in flames.

He never emerged from the ruins, and hours later a charred body was found in the basement of the burned cabin along with a wallet and personal items, including a California driver's licence with the name Christopher Dorner, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Authorities believe the remains are those of the former Los Angeles police officer, but they have not been formally identified.

"We have reason to believe that it is him," San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said.

A driver whose truck was taken by a carjacker believed to have been Dorner said Wednesday the man appeared calm and didn't want to hurt him.

Rick Heltebrake said he instantly recognized Dorner, who had an assault rifle pointed at him Tuesday on a mountain road. The most wanted man in America was clad in camouflage from head to toe and wearing a bulletproof vest packed with magazines.

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

Dorner, who wasn't lugging any gear, got into the truck and drove on.

Heltebrake called police when he heard a volley of gunfire erupt soon after.

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Wednesday his deputies did not intentionally burn down the cabin. His deputies shot pyrotechnic tear gas into the cabin, and it erupted in flames, he said.

McMahon said authorities have not positively identified the remains.

Police Department Lieut. Andrew Neiman said Wednesday officers used the Internet to monitor radio chatter during the firefight. "It was horrifying to listen to that firefight and to hear those words. 'Officer down' is the most gut-wrenching experience that you can have as a police officer."

Dorner, 33, had said in a lengthy rant police believe he posted on Facebook he expected to die in one final, violent confrontation with police, and if it was him in the cabin that's just what happened.

Just a few hours after police announced Tuesday they had fielded more than 1,000 tips with no sign of Dorner, word came that a man matching his description had tied up two people in a Big Bear Lake cabin, stole their car and fled.

Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Fish and Wildlife Department, which aided the search, said two housekeepers surprised Dorner in the cabin when they went to clean it Tuesday morning.

The women were tied up but one was able to free herself and call police, Foy said.

Fish and Wildlife wardens spotted the Nissan that had been reported stolen going in the opposite direction and gave chase, Foy said. The driver looked like Dorner.

They lost the car after it passed a school bus and turned onto a side road, but two other Fish and Wildlife patrols turned up the road a short time later and were searching for the car when a white truck sped erratically toward them.

"He took a close look at the driver and realized it was the suspect," Foy said.

Dorner, who allegedly stole the truck at gunpoint after crashing the first car, rolled down a window and opened fire on the wardens, striking their truck more than a dozen times, he said. One of the wardens shot at the suspect as he rounded a curve in the road. It's unclear if he was hit, but the stolen truck careened off the road and crashed in a snow bank.

The driver then ran to the cabin where he barricaded himself and got in a shootout with officers, two of whom were shot, one fatally.

Law-enforcement officers surrounded the cabin and used an armoured vehicle to break out the cabin windows, said a law-enforcement official who requested anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

The officers then lobbed tear gas canisters into the cabin and blasted a message over a loudspeaker: "Surrender or come out."

The armoured vehicle then tore down each of the cabin's four walls.

A single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames.

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

Dorner blamed LAPD Capt. Randal Quan for providing poor representation before the police disciplinary board that fired him for filing a false report.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 A13

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