Officials: Man shot himself after chase's end near Livingston

26-year-old was from Stockton

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comMarch 7, 2013 

— A 26-year-old man who died after a Highway 99 pursuit with law enforcement officers was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Merced County Sheriff's Department reported Thursday.

The coroner's office has identified the dead man as Brandon Wesley Eckel.

The Ceres Police Department, which stopped Eckel's vehicle originally and had two officers involved in the incident, turned over the officer-involved shooting portion of the investigation to the Merced sheriff's office.

The incident was reported at 12:18 a.m. Wednesday after Ceres police officer Bryan Ferreira pulled over the suspect's 1998 GMC Sonoma.

After the officer learned the Eckel was driving on a suspended license, he informed the suspect the truck would be towed, according to deputy Delray Shelton, a sheriff's spokesman.

Eckel drove away, leading officers on a high-speed chase along Highway 99. At the end of the pursuit, Eckel went across the highway's median in the Livingston area, traveling into the northbound lanes and turning off onto the Sultana Drive onramp.

He lost control of the truck and wrecked after driving on the wrong side of the road against oncoming traffic, according to Shelton. Eckel exited the truck, holding a gun to his chin area, and then pointed the weapon at the officers, according to the Sheriff's Department.

Two Ceres police officers and a CHP officer fired at Eckel. At some point, the suspect discharged his own weapon, fatally shooting himself, authorities said.

The Ceres officers who discharged their weapons have been identified as officer Dirk Neiuwenhuis and officer Brian Albonetti. The CHP officer who discharged his weapon hasn't been identified, pending the investigation, according to Shelton.

Deputies haven't said whether Eckel shot himself after being fired upon by the officers. The officers weren't hurt.

According to the Sheriff's Department, Eckel had been living with his girlfriend in the Stockton area. His previous arrests have involved allegations of domestic violence, drug violations, evading police, resisting arrest and sex crimes, authorities said.

Detectives said drugs were found on Eckel's body.

The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure in such cases pending completion of the investigation.

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