This is a story on the death of California Highway Patrol Officer Earl Scott that was published on Feb. 18, 2006.
SALIDA — A gunman shot and killed a California Highway Patrol officer early Friday during a traffic stop on Highway 99. Authorities arrested a 30-year-old Stockton man and charged him with murder.
CHP officer Earl Scott, 36, of Hughson was killed by a single bullet to the head after making what officials described as a "routine" traffic stop just south of the Hammett Road exit.
The investigation closed northbound lanes of the highway for several hours and disrupted travel for thousands of motorists.
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Scott, who was killed about 4:40 a.m., was the fifth CHP officer to die while on duty since September. Scott was based in Modesto.
Stanislaus County sheriff's homicide investigators arrested Columbus Jr Allen II in Stockton about 3:30 p.m. on a charge of murder, officials said. Allen had walked into the Stockton Police Department four hours after the shooting and "linked himself to this murder," said Assistant Sheriff Mark Puthuff.
Puthuff did not say what role Allen may have played in the shooting, or if he was alone in the car. Investigators are following leads and more arrests may be made, he said.
CHP officials were staggered by news of Scott's slaying. The Modesto CHP office, about a mile and a half from where Scott was killed, was shut down for the day. Grief counselors were made available to Scott's colleagues. A black wreath was hung on the front door, the flag was lowered to half-staff and flowers were laid near the entrance sign.
"As a CHP officer, you always knew that if you ever made a call for help, Earl would be there to save you," officer Tom Killian said. "That's the kind of person and officer he was.
"And unfortunately, he died alone today on the side of a dirty road, by himself. It's hard, it's hard. He was a really great guy. He was very well-liked. This is a very difficult day."
Scott stopped a northbound 1990 maroon Nissan Maxima about 4:30 a.m., officials said.
"I believe it was for (excessive) speed," said CHP Capt. Lenley Duncan, who commands the Stanislaus County office. Scott's last radar reading showed 80 mph, he said.
RIVER SAW OFFICER FALLING
Scott did not call dispatch before approaching the Nissan, Duncan said. It is "practice, but not policy" to call in a license plate on a routine stop, Killian said.
Officials believe Scott spoke to the driver through the passenger-side window.
It is not clear how much time elapsed before Scott was shot, or how many people were in the car, officials said. Scott's white Camaro patrol car did not have a video camera, Duncan said.
A man driving past the scene "saw the officer falling," sheriff's Lt. Bryan Markum said. The driver, who was not identified, left the freeway and returned to the patrol car, jumping a fence to get there.
The witness found Scott lying on the shoulder, officials said. He called 911 from his cell phone.
When deputies and CHP officers arrived, Scott was dead, officials said. The Nissan's registration papers were in his hand.
Scott was wearing a bulletproof vest, Duncan said. He was killed by a single bullet wound to the head, sheriff's Capt. Doug Leo confirmed.
Officials immediately launched a statewide manhunt, Markum said. The CHP activated its Amber Alert program to post the car's description on electronic signs throughout the state, Killian said.
The CHP closed two lanes of northbound Highway 99 at 5:07 a.m., and by 6:39 a.m. had closed all northbound lanes, plus the frontage roads on both sides of the freeway.
At 8:40 a.m., Allen went to the Stockton Police Department to talk to officers about the shooting, officials said. Stanislaus County sheriff's investigators drove to Stockton and began interviewing Allen.
Officials did not reveal what Allen said. Puthuff, at a late afternoon news conference, would not say if Allen confessed to the killing, or how investigators linked him to the shooting.
At 9 a.m., CHP and sheriff's officials held a terse press conference at the Salida Fire Station, less than a mile from the site of the shooting. Outside the station, firefighters flew the American flag at half-staff.
"The CHP has lost another talented officer, a member of our family," CHP Commissioner Mike Brown said. "Quite frankly, we want this to stop."
HOME CORDONED OFF
As Brown spoke, investigators had begun acting on several leads, sheriff's Sgt. Mike Parker said.
By 11 a.m., Stockton police had cordoned off three homes in the 300 block of Jill Circle, where the car's owner lives.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Nissan was registered to Bertera Allen, 28. The car was not reported as stolen. Officials would not say if Bertera and Columbus Allen are related.
At noon, authorities had removed the yellow tape in front of two homes but left 375 Jill Circle cordoned off.
Puthuff did not say what evidence, if any, investigators found inside the home. He said deputies served multiple warrants, in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, but did not say how many or where.
Allen had been in south Modesto before he was stopped, Puthuff said. He did not say where or what he was doing there.
Investigators did not say whether Allen was the driver or a passenger, whether he was the shooter or if someone else pulled the trigger. When asked to specify the charges against Allen, Puthuff said: "He's going to be booked. We have enough evidence to do that."
Allen was booked and sent to county jail at 5:35 p.m. Investigators drove him from Stockton in a dark, unmarked police car with tinted windows. Allen rode in the front seat and appeared to be wearing a white athletic jumpsuit.
"I didn't do it. They know I didn't do it," Allen told Sacramento's KXTV-Channel 10 as he was ushered into the car at the Stockton Police Department.
Friday night, officials had not located the Nissan or the gun used to kill Scott, Killian said.
Scott came from a family of CHP officers, Brown said. He would have celebrated his fifth anniversary with the CHP on Sunday and had worked out of Modesto for three years.
"His father was a retired highway patrol sergeant out of the Monterey office," Brown said. "He had two uncles, both retired sergeants out of the Modesto office."
The Bee was unable to locate Scott's relatives.
His death was felt not only within the CHP, but also in law enforcement statewide.
"California peace officers face grave dangers each day as they go about their duties to protect us," Gov. Schwarzenegger said.
Modesto police officer Rick Applegate said: "With something like this, when it happens to someone so close to home, it makes us all weary. We're not sitting here saying, 'Well, that's New York,' or, 'That's L.A.' This is our back yard.
"I hate to say it, but I think it's just a matter of time before one of our officers is attacked."
Scott was a reserve officer with Modesto police from June 1996 to August 2000, Applegate said.
"Criminals are becoming more brazen," Parker said, referring to recent police shootings in Turlock and Ceres, plus the November fatal shooting near Woodland of CHP officer Andy Stevens, 37, of Roseville. "I don't know why, but they are."
A COMBINED EFFORT
The law enforcement response to Scott's killing was immediate and sweeping. Every county law enforcement agency responded to the early morning call, as did Salida firefighters, Lt. Adam Christianson said. In San Joaquin County, Stockton and Ripon police also assisted, he said.
U.S. Marshals, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the state parole Fugitive Task Force and Stanislaus County Probation Department helped in the investigation, Christianson said.
CHP officers from around the state converged on Salida to offer their help, Killian said.
"You get emotional; it's like losing a family member," Killian said. "You can't put words to it. You know this job is dangerous, but when something like this happens, it hits you right in the face.
"This is very difficult. But I know he would expect us to suck it up and do our duty."
Officers request anyone with information on the whereabouts of the 1990 maroon Nissan Maxima, license plate 5KWA335, call sheriff's Sgt. Mick Hardenbrook at 525-7074.
CHP SHOOTING TIMELINE
Here are the hours leading up to, and after, the Friday morning shooting death of California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott, 36, of Hughson.
9:45 p.m. Scott's 8½-hour shift is scheduled to start
4:40 a.m. Scott makes a traffic stop on the side of the northbound lanes of Highway 99 near Salida and is shot to death
5:07 a.m. Two of three northbound lanes closed
6:39 a.m. All northbound lanes are shut down at Kiernan Avenue
8:40 a.m. A man described as a "person of interest" enters the Stockton Police Department with information connected to the shooting, according to Stanislaus County Sheriff's Lt. Bryan Markum
9 a.m. Law enforcement holds news conference giving details of the shooting, including the name of the slain officer
1 p.m. Highway 99 northbound lanes reopen.
4:10 p.m. Law enforcement holds news conference announcing the arrest on murder charges of 30-year-old Columbus Jr Allen II of Stockton, the man who had turned himself in to Stockton police. They also say the investigation is continuing, that they still are searching for the car involved in the shooting and did not rule out the possibility of more arrests.
5:35 p.m. Allen arrives at Stanislaus County Jail.