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Update: Dorner manhunt ends with car chase, gun fight and fire

10:33 AM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
Photographs of former police officer Christopher Dorner are displayed during a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department. Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
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by William M. Welch, Donna Leinwand Leger and Michael Winter, USA TODAY

Investigators were picking through the rubble of a burned-out cabin in California's San Bernardino Mountains on Wednesday, trying to piece together details of the violent last stand for a fugitive former Los Angeles police officer whose life apparently ended hours earlier in a barrage of bullets and blazing fire.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office said charred human remains were found in the rubble where Christopher Dorner had been cornered Tuesday. "We have reason to believe that it is him," sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said.

Bachman said forensic tests would be carried out to confirm the identification.

Hours earlier, Dorner killed one sheriff's deputy and wounded another as his deadly two-week rampage across Southern California came to a close.

Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said it was "highly likely" that Dorner had been inside when authorities heard a single gunshot and saw the cabin burning in Seven Oaks, a small community in the San Bernardino Mountains, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

But Smith said that until Dorner's body is positively identified "or he's in shackles," the LAPD is continuing under "tactical alert ... as if he's still out there." Police will continue to protect dozens of officers and others threatened in Dorner's online manifesto.

SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside of the cabin as part of a "tactical operation" and were tearing down its walls to flush out Dorner, who had reportedly been driven back inside by police when he tried to flee out the back.

Police said Dorner had been holed up since Thursday in another cabin 20 to 30 yards from the site where news media gathered and received sheriff's briefings daily on the massive manhunt after his burned truck was found earlier that day.

He was discovered Tuesday by two cleaning women who entered the cabin. Dorner tied them up with plastic zip ties and left in their car, wrecked it, then stole a truck from a male driver. He tried to drive that truck away, according to the account, and ran from the truck after encountering state fish and wildlife officers searching cars leaving the mountain.

A man identified as Rick Heltebrake, who works at a Boy Scout camp in the Big Bear area, told KTLA-TV News that Dorner stole his truck from him at gunpoint.

Heltebrake said Dorner came right to the point: "He said, 'I don't want to hurt you. Just get out of the truck and start walking up the road.'" He asked if he could get his dog out of the back. Dorner said okay, but don't take time to get a leash.

After exchanging gunfire with officers, Dorner ran into the woods and broke into the cabin. As SWAT closed in, a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames. As the fire grew, more gunshots were heard - apparently ammunition ignited by the fire, authorities said.

Authorities let the cabin burn.

"We won't allow them (firefighters) to get close to the cabin,'' said Cindy Bachman, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. "It's just not safe.''

The deputy's death in Tuesday's shootout was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what his manifesto linked to a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the LAPD in 2009.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had called Dorner "a domestic terrorist," and a $1 million reward, raised from public and private sources, was offered. Police received more than 1,000 tips.

Dorner was charged with killing Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain and was the prime suspect in the murders of Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, on Jan. 29. She was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain whom Dorner blamed for his firing after reporting alleged abuse by another officer. Randall Quan represented Dorner during his termination hearing.

At an early Tuesday evening news conference in Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that "on behalf of the people of Los Angeles, our hearts and prayers are with the San Bernardino deputy who was shot and killed today."

"Our prayers are with the family, with the people of San Bernardino, with the police and the sheriff's department of that county. I want to thank them for their bravery." He also thanked the city's police officers, "who put their lives on the line every day."

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said in a statement that deputies searching for Dorner then responded to a report of a stolen vehicle in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Seven Oaks, outside Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains.

"The reporting party said the suspect took their vehicle and described the suspect as looking very similar to Dorner,'' the department said. "Deputies immediately began a search on the ground and from the air for the vehicle.''

"The vehicle was located at Highway 38 and Glass Road. The suspect fled into the forest and barricaded himself inside a cabin,'' the department said.

A short time later, there was an exchange of gunfire between law enforcement and the suspect. The officers' vehicle was peppered with multiple rounds, authorities said.

When deputies approached the cabin, one deputy was hit as Dorner fired out. A second deputy was wounded when Dorner went out the back of the cabin, set off a smoke bomb and opened fire again as he tried to flee, sources told the Los Angeles Times. He was driven back inside the cabin.

A search for Dorner, 33, has been underway in the Big Bear area since his burned-out pickup was found there Thursday. Road blocks were up throughout the area.

Smith said the sighting of Dorner came at 12:22 p.m. local time. He urged Los Angeles television stations with helicopters over the area not to air shots of ground activity by police because the fugitive could be watching TV or following media reports.

The San Bernardino sheriff also asked the news media to stop tweeting, saying it was "hindering officer safety."

Federal authorities had believed Dorner might have fled to Mexico, according to a federal criminal complaint.

The federal complaint filed last week alleges Dorner killed three people on a revenge-driven shooting spree in Southern California.

The manhunt began last Wednesday when he was named the suspect in the killings of Monica Quan and Lawrence in Orange County..

Hours after police announced they were looking for him, Dorner allegedly fired at LAPD officers, then ambushed two Riverside officers, killing one.

An angry manifesto, that police attributed to Dorner, charges rampant racism in the LAPD and claims that he was wrongly dismissed for giving false evidence.

The manifesto's author vowed deadly revenge on those in the LAPD responsible for his firing years earlier, and their families. Police are providing protection for about 50 families thought to be targets.

Contributing: Doug Stanglin; Kim Hjelmgaard.

Previous story

By William M. Welch, Donna Leinwand Leger and Michael Winter, USA TODAY

The Los Angeles Police Department said late Tuesday that they have not confirmed that a body in a burned-out mountain resort cabin is that of former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner, who killed one sheriff's deputy and wounded another earlier in the day as he was cornered after a deadly two-week rampage across Southern California.

"There has been no body located inside that cabin... the fire is still too hot," said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith. "Any reports of a body being found are not true.''

He added that authorities were "still in a holding pattern to search" the smoldering rubble.

Smith said that until Dorner's body is positively identified "or he's in shackles," the LAPD is continuing under "tactical alert ... as if he's still out there."

Earlier, Smith said it was "highly likely" that Dorner had been inside when authorities heard a single gunshot and saw the cabin burning in Seven Oaks, a tiny community in the San Bernardino Mountains, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. Live TV showed the structure in flames for more than 90 minutes.

Riverside County Police Chief Sergio Diaz told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that Dorner's body had been found, and several other news outlets, citing unidentified sources, said Dorner's body had been recovered. An LAPD spokeswoman told USA TODAY, however, that the department was not confirming those reports.

Smith reiterated that the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department was leading the investigation and would make any official announcement. A sheriff's spokeswoman had planned a late-night news conference but it was delayed several hours.

One San Bernardino sheriff's deputy died and another was wounded Tuesday afternoon during a dramatic gunfight with a man authorities believed was Dorner.

SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside as part of a "tactical operation" and were tearing it down to flush out Dorner, who had reportedly been driven back inside by police when he tried to flee out the back after setting off a smoke grenade.

KCAL-TV reports that Dorner had been holed up since Thursday in a cabin across the street and only 20 to 30 yards from the site where media gathered and received sheriff's briefings daily on the massive manhunt after his burned truck was found earlier that day.

The station says he was discovered Tuesday by two cleaning women who entered the cabin to clean it. According to this account, he tied them up with plastic zip ties and left in their car, wrecked it, then stole a truck from a man driving it. He tried to drive that truck away, according to the account, and ran from the truck after encountering state fish and wildlife officers searching cars leaving the mountain. After exchanging gunfire, he ran into the woods and broke into the cabin that burned.

Citing an unidentified source, the Los Angeles Times reports that officers heard a single gunshot as a police vehicle tore down the cabin's walls. Flames then began spreading, followed by gunshots -- apparently ammunition ignited by the fire.

Authorities let the cabin burn.

"We won't allow them (firefighters) to get close to the cabin,'' said Cindy Bachman, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. "It's just not safe.''

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon confirmed at a 4 p.m. PT news conference that one deputy had died and that the wounded deputy was in surgery at Loma Linda University Medical Center near Redlands. He is expected to recover.

Neither deputy has been identified.

The deputy's death was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what authorities said was a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the LAPD in 2008.

At an afternoon news conference after the gun fight and shortly before the cabin began burning, Smith called on Dorner to surrender.

"Enough is enough. It's time to turn yourself in," Smith said, addressing Dorner via television cameras. "It's time to end the bloodshed."

The Los Angeles police chief called Dorner "a domestic terrorist," and a $1 million reward, from public and private sources, was offered. Police had received more than 1,000 tips by Monday.

In addition to killing Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain, Dorner also was the prime suspect in the double murder of Monica Quan and her fiance Jan. 29. She was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain whom Dorner blamed for his being fired in 2008 after reporting alleged abuse by another officer.

At an early evening news conference in Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that "on behalf of the people of Los Angeles, our hearts and prayers are with the San Bernardino deputy who was shot and killed today."

"Our prayers are with the family, with the people of San Bernardino, with the police and the sheriff's department of that county. I want to thank them for their bravery." He also thanked the city's police officers, "who put their lives on the line every day."

Tuesday's dramatic turn came as Dorner reportedly broke into a home on Highway 38 in the Big Bear area, tied up a couple, held them hostage and then fled with their white pickup truck, authorities said.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said in a statement that deputies searching for Dorner then responded to a report of a stolen vehicle in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Seven Oaks, outside Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains.

"The reporting party said the suspect took their vehicle and described the suspect as looking very similar to Dorner,'' the department said. "Deputies immediately began a search on the ground and from the air for the vehicle.''

"The vehicle was located at Highway 38 and Glass Road. The suspect fled into the forest and barricaded himself inside a cabin,'' the department said.

"A short time later, there was an exchange of gunfire between law enforcement and the suspect. Sheriff's SWAT is on scene.

Gunshots could be heard along with officers' shouts on a KCAL-TV audio broadcast from the scene.

The station reported state Fish and Wildlife officers exchanged shots with the suspect after stopping the truck. He then sped away but crashed the truck, taking refuge in a nearby cabin.

The officers' vehicle was peppered with multiple rounds, authorities said.

When deputies approached the cabin, one deputy was hit as Dorner fired out. A second deputy was wounded when Dorner went out the back of the cabin, set off a smoke bomb and opened fire again as he tried to flee, sources told the Los Angeles Times. He was driven back inside the cabin.

The son of the cabin's owner told CNN that there were six cabins on the 10-acre property and that Dorner had apparently barricaded himself in the main cabin, which was larger than the other five.

All roads out of the area were closed, and skiers were instructed not to leave the area immediately.

A search for Dorner has been underway in the Big Bear area since his pickup was found there Thursday. Road blocks were up throughout the area.

Smith said the sighting of Dorner came at 12:22 p.m. local time. He urged Los Angeles television stations with helicopters over the area not to air shots of ground activity by police because the fugitive could be watching TV or following media reports.

The San Bernardino sheriff also asked the media to stop tweeting, saying it was "hindering officer safety."

Federal authorities had believed Dorner might have fled to Mexico, according to a federal criminal complaint.

The federal criminal complaint filed last week alleges Dorner killed three people on a revenge-driven shooting spree in Southern California.

The manhunt for Dorner, 33, began last Wednesday when he was named the suspect in the Orange County killings of a former Los Angeles police captain's daughter and her fiance the previous weekend.

Hours after police announced they were looking for him, Dorner allegedly fired at LAPD officers, then ambushed two Riverside officers, killing one.

An angry manifesto that police attributed to Dorner charges rampant racism in the LAPD and claims that he was wrongly dismissed for giving false evidence.

READ: Full complaint

The author vowed deadly revenge on those in the LAPD responsible for his firing years earlier, and their families. Police now are providing protection for some 50 families thought to be targets.

The search has been particularly urgent because of Dorner's U.S. Navy military training as a sharpshooter. He has also been trained in underwater warfare.

TMZ reported Monday that surveillance video showing a man fitting Dorner's description bought scuba gear at at sporting goods store in Torrance, Calif., two days before the killing spree began.

TMZ reported that police have obtained the video and quoted an unidentified law enforcement source as confirming that Dorner is the man shown in the footage.

TMZ quoted one law enforcement source as saying the video is significant because "it shows what he was up to."

The criminal complaint also says that authorities were tracking a Dorner associate identified only as "J.Y.," who had been spotted in Costa Mesa.

The criminal complaint, filed Feb. 7, said that on that day, police spoke with a boat captain in San Diego who reported that a man fitting Dorner's description had subdued him and tried to steal a boat, telling the owner that he was taking it to Mexico, where it could be recovered. The suspect fled after the bow line of the boat got caught in its propeller and stalled.

The complaint also notes that Dorner's personal belongings, including his wallet and I.D. cards, were found near the U.S.-Mexico border at the San Ysidro Point of Entry. In addition, the complaint alleges, a man matching Dorner's description tried to gain access to the Point Loma naval base in San Diego.

Based on its evidence, Craig McClusky, of the U.S. Marshals Service, said in the complaint that there is "probable cause" to believe that Dorner has "moved and traveled in interstate and foreign commerce from California to Mexico with the intent to avoid prosecution."

Investigators raided the Hotel Tapatio in Tijuana Monday looking for Dorner, but turned up no evidence on the property concerning the fugitive, ABC10 in San Diego reported. More than 20 officers searched the hotel following a tip from the public.

Contributing: Doug Stanglin.

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