CLEONE, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California sheriff's deputy was killed Wednesday in a shootout with an armed kidnapping suspect, who fled the scene and was later shot to death by a law officer, authorities said.
Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino, 48, died in the shootout that happened around noon, the sheriff's office announced. The suspect also died in an exchange of gunfire with a police officer and not of a suicide as authorities had initially reported, Sheriff Tom Allman told KTVU-TV on Wednesday night.
The incident occurred just north of Fort Bragg in Cleone, a rural area that is a mix of homes, forest and open fields, Allman said.
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.
"On behalf of the California Department of Justice, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino," Harris said in a statement. "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."
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat identified the dead suspect as Ricardo Antonio Chaney, 32, of Oregon.
Chaney was suspected of going on a crime spree that began early Wednesday, when authorities say he stole a black BMW in Eugene, Ore., and forced the car's occupants into the trunk, the paper reported. The victims were later able to escape. Eugene police said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the stolen car had been recovered, the Eugene Register-Guard reported.
The paper reported that after the incidents in Eugene, police in California were told to be on the lookout for the stolen car. Local media reports said Chaney had a run-in with a northern California business owner and shots were fired. Later, officers located the BMW and shooting erupted.
The shootout, which also involved a Fort Bragg police officer, left Del Fiorentino's vehicle "riddled with bullets" and Chaney with a gunshot wound in the leg, Allman said.
Just after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Press Democrat said investigators called off their search for the shooter and nearby residents were no longer in danger.
Authorities were making automated calls "to let people know they don't need to worry anymore," Capt. Greg Van Patten, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, told the paper.
U.S. Highway 1 near MacKerricher State Park was closed during the search, according to the Daily Journal. Don Armstrong, the superintendent of the Fort Bragg Unified School District, told the Press Democrat that 20 students, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, were held at Fort Bragg schools while the road was closed.
Law enforcement vehicles swarmed the area, the Press Democrat reported.
"There's got to be at least a million police officers there," said Paige McIntyre, who was also prevented from traveling north from Fort Bragg because of the road closure.
Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner told the Press Democrat that the shooting put the entire town on edge.
"People are worried. Anytime you hear someone got shot, that there's someone with a gun running, people are rightfully concerned," Turner said.
The Register-Guard reported that Chaney had a run-in with the law on March 6 when police stopped his vehicle and found that he had no vehicle insurance and discovered firearms, including a modified AR-15, and body armor in the glove box and trunk. Citing police records, the paper said Chaney was arrested and released the same day.