Pursuit ends in man's death near Livingston

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comMarch 6, 2013 

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said one man is dead after pointing a rifle at Ceres police and California Highway Patrol officers early Wednesday morning in the area of Sultana Drive and Highway 99 near Livingston.

Pazin said it's unknown whether the man died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, or wounds suffered from the officers' gunshots. He said the man's name is being withheld pending notification of his family.

Two Ceres police officers and one CHP officer were involved in the incident.

Ceres police have handed the officer- involved shooting portion of the investigation over to the Merced County Sheriff's Department.

Ceres police Lt. Brent Smith, who spoke to the media only about the first half of the pursuit, said the incident started at 12:18 a.m. in the area of Don Pedro Road and Ormie Lane when a Ceres officer pulled over the suspect's white Chevy truck.

After the officer informed the man his truck was going to be towed, Smith said, he drove away. The fleeing vehicle went through a chain-link fence and onto northbound Highway 99. After a short time, the driver turned around and went southbound on the highway toward Merced County.

A high-speed pursuit ensued.

Ceres police and the CHP officer chased the truck, which eventually went across the median of Highway 99 from the southbound lanes onto the northbound portion of the freeway, Pazin said.

The man then drove onto the Sultana Drive onramp from Highway 99, where he wrecked his vehicle and got out, Pazin said.

Upon exiting the truck, the man pulled out a rifle and pointed it at the officers, Pazin said, and they discharged their weapons. At some point during the incident, the suspect suffered at least one gunshot wound to the head.

However, Pazin said there's a possibility the man may have taken his own life, and it's unclear whether he was hit by the officers' gunfire. Pazin said detectives are awaiting results from the man's autopsy to help make that determination.

Pazin didn't release the names of the officers involved in the incident.

The sheriff said the incident is a "testament to the good work of the officers" and underlines the dangers they often face, particularly after the recent killings of two Santa Cruz police officers.

"There's nothing routine about law enforcement anymore," Pazin said.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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