Authorities Piecing Together Ex-Officer Dorner’s Rampage

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LOS ANGELES
(AP) — There was no question. The man standing before Rick Heltebrake
on a rural mountain road was Christopher Dorner.

Clad
in camouflage from head to toe and wearing a bulletproof vest packed
with ammunition, the most wanted man in America over the last week was
just a few feet away, having emerged from a grove of trees holding a
large, assault-style rifle.

As teams of
officers who had sought the fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer since
last week were closing in, Dorner pointed the gun at Heltebrake and
ordered him to get out of his truck.

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

The
man, who wasn't lugging any gear, got into the truck and drove away.
Heltebrake, with his 3-year-old Dalmatian Suni in tow, called police
when he heard a volley of gunfire erupt soon after, and then hid behind a
tree.

A short time later, police caught up
with the man they believe was Dorner, surrounding a cabin in which he
had taken refuge after crashing Heltebrake's truck 80 miles east of Los
Angeles. A gunfight ensued in which one sheriff's deputy was killed and
another wounded.

Then, as the gunfire ended, the cabin erupted in flames.

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 did not say directly that the tear gas started the blaze, and the cause of the fire remained unclear.

A
charred body was found in the basement, along with a wallet and
personal items, including a California driver's license with the name
Christopher Dorner, an official briefed on the investigation told The
Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probe.

McMahon said authorities have not positively identified the remains.

Recalling
his encounter, Heltebrake said Wednesday that he wasn't panicked in his
meeting with Dorner because he didn't feel the fugitive wanted to hurt
him. “He wasn't wild-eyed, just almost professional,” he said. “He was
on a mission.”

“It was clear I wasn't part of his agenda and there were other people down the road that were part of his agenda,” he said.

Dorner,
33, had said in a rant that authorities believe he posted on Facebook
last week that he expected to die, with the police chasing him, as he
embarked on a campaign of revenge against the Los Angeles Police
Department for firing him.

The apparent end
came in the same mountain range where Dorner's trail went cold six days
earlier, after his pickup truck – with guns and camping gear inside -
was found abandoned and on fire near the ski resort town of Big Bear
Lake.

His footprints led away from the truck and vanished on frozen soil.

Deputies
searched door-to-door in the city of Big Bear Lake and then, in a
blinding snowstorm, SWAT teams with bloodhounds and high-tech equipment
in tow focused on scouring hundreds of vacant cabins in the forest
outside of town.

Authorities for the most part
looked at cabins boarded up for the winter, said Dan Sforza, assistant
chief of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and often
didn't enter occupied homes where nothing appeared amiss.

That
could have been how Dorner went overlooked in a cabin just across the
street from a police command post set up to capture him. It wasn't
immediately known how he got into the cabin or how long he'd been there.

He
as there Tuesday, however, when two women arrived to clean it, said Lt.
Patrick Foy of the state fish and wildlife department.

With
three killings behind him and law enforcement still on the hunt, Dorner
didn't shoot them. Instead, he tied up the women and took their purple
Nissan as he fled. Sparing the housekeepers ultimately would start the
chain of events that would lead to his undoing.

One of the women broke free and called 911, Foy said, and the chase was on.

Two
game wardens quickly spotted the car on a meandering road along a
scenic lake, and deputies planned to throw down spike strips to puncture
the vehicle's tires, authorities said.

The
driver of the vehicle seems to anticipate the move, pulling close behind
the school buses to give officers no space to drop the strips, Foy
said. Dorner had warned – even boasted – in the rant that he knew their
tactics and techniques as well as the officers pursuing him.

The purple Nissan then disappeared.

Heltebrake,
a ranger who takes care of a Boy Scout camp nearby, said he just had
lunch and was checking the perimeter of the camp for anything out of the
ordinary when he saw someone emerge from the trees, and instantly
recognized Dorner as the man on the news.

Officers
trying to find the fugitive quickly realized he must have turned onto a
side road, but for a few minutes nobody involved in the chase knew he
had changed vehicles.

That was when officers saw Heltebrake's truck, and Dorner appeared to be behind the wheel. And then the shooting started.

At
one point, an officer emptied a high-powered semiautomatic rifle into
the truck, but Foy said he doubts the driver was hit. “If he had been
struck it would have caused so much damage immediately that he (the
warden) probably would have known,” he said.

Out of options after crashing the pickup, the driver made a break for a cabin and barricaded himself inside.

With
the standoff under way, officers lobbed tear gas canisters into the
cabin. A single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in
flames, said a law enforcement official who requested anonymity because
the investigation was ongoing.

If the body
found there proves to be Dorner's, the death toll from the rampage would
be four, including a Riverside police officer.

Police
said Dorner began his run on Feb. 6 after they connected the Feb. 3
slayings of a former police captain's daughter and her fiance with his
angry manifesto.

Dorner blamed former LAPD
Capt. Randal Quan for providing poor representation before a police
disciplinary board that fired him for filing a false report. Dorner, who
is black, claimed he was the subject of racism by the department and
was targeted for reporting misconduct.

Chief
Charlie Beck, who initially dismissed his allegations, said he would
reopen the investigation into his firing – not to appease the
ex-officer, but to restore confidence in the black community, which had a
tense relationship with police that has improved in recent years.

LAPD
Lt. Andrew Neiman said his agency had returned to normal patrol
operations Wednesday but about a dozen targets Dorner threatened to go
after would continue to be protected until the remains are positively
identified.

“This really is not a celebration,” he said.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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