A transient suspected of fatally shooting a prominent Northern California city councilman is now also wanted in the death of a land steward, authorities said Friday.
Mendocino County sheriff's officials said they are obtaining an arrest warrant for Aaron Bassler for both murders, The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported (http://bit.ly/q8Ej8V).
Authorities have undertaken a relentless intense manhunt through rugged timber land for the 35-year-old Bassler since popular Fort Bragg Councilman and former mayor Jere Melo was gunned down Aug. 27.
"It's frustrating, it's tedious," said Bob Nishiyama, who commands the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, told the newspaper Thursday. "The area we're talking about is absolutely miserable."
Air crews, off-road vehicles and other means were being deployed to assist the more than two-dozen searchers from local police, the FBI, the National Guard, state Highway Patrol, Cal Fire and the state Fish and Game department, Nishiyama said.
"You name it, we've been using it," he said.
Melo, 69, a forest land manager, was killed while he and a co-worker were investigating reports of an illegal marijuana farm just outside of town along the Noyo River in the heart of pot country. The co-worker managed to escape and called for help on his cellphone.
Just two weeks earlier, Matthew Coleman, a former Fish and Game Department employee and land manager for the Mendocino Land Trust, was found shot to death next to his car Aug. 11 while clearing brush near a 400-acre ranch owned by the Save the Redwoods League north of Westport.
James Bassler told The Press Democrat that his ex-wife had dropped off their son who was armed with a rifle, in that area around that time. The father told the newspaper that his son had made the forested coastal hills his home following a steady psychological decline marked by delusions, paranoia and violent outbursts.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman vowed to find Bassler, saying searchers are "making progress." He declined to go into specifics.
"We're looking for a safe resolution for everyone involved, and we hope the suspect will surrender and have the judicial system run its course," Allman said.
Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner agrees.
"They will find him," Turner said. "It's just a matter of time."
Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com