EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — The man suspected of a crime spree last week that left a Northern California sheriff's deputy dead had been jailed in Oregon two weeks earlier but was released for lack of evidence and manpower in the local district attorney's office.
Authorities believe Ricardo Antonio Chaney killed a man in Eugene, Ore., on Wednesday, carjacked a vehicle and drove to Mendocino County, Calif., where he fatally shot Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino before being killed in a shootout with a Fort Bragg, Calif., police officer.
Chaney, 32, had been arrested March 6 by Eugene police, who suspected he had a stolen cellphone and stopped his car for traffic violations. They found several guns in the vehicle, including a rifle that appeared to be illegally modified. They also found body armor and methamphetamine, so they arrested him.
Despite the suspicious circumstances and a criminal record that included misdemeanor convictions for third-degree escape and disorderly conduct, Chaney was released the same day.
"The March 6 charges against Chaney were not filed because they fell below the current triage standards and involved no violence or threat of violence," Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner said in a statement.
Prosecutors were not ready to charge him with a firearms crime because the modified weapon had been sent to an Oregon State Police crime lab for further testing, apparently to check for illegal modifications, Chief Deputy District Attorney Patty Perlow said.
Officials in the district attorney's office repeated last week what they have said many times — that they do not have funding to employ enough prosecutors to pursue the simplest drug possession cases, The Register-Guard reported. Because of budget cuts, the office has had to establish priorities and standards that determine which crimes to prosecute.
It's unknown what led to Wednesday's spree.
Police believe Chaney likely shot George Bundy Wasson, 79, a retired University of Oregon anthropology instructor and Coquille Tribe elder. His body was found in his burning house. Chaney knew Wasson's family, said Eugene police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin.
Less than an hour after the fire was discovered, police say Chaney forced two men into the trunk of their BMW. The men held up outside their home managed to escape in a parking lot and called 911.
About 10 hours after the carjacking, Chaney exchanged gunfire with a worker at a California tourist attraction along Highway 101, about 180 miles north of San Francisco.
After he fled, a deputy spotted him about an hour later but he got away during a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 mph.
Chaney encountered Del Fiorentino in Cleone, a rural area with a mix of homes, forest and open fields, and sprayed the deputy's car with rifle bullets, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.
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.
The investigation has been turned over to the Mendocino County district attorney's office.
Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com