Self-inflicted gunshot wound killed pursuit suspect, says Merced County Coroner

03/07/2013 4:04 PM

03/07/2013 5:47 PM

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

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

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 Sheriff’s Deputy Delray Shelton.

Eckel drove away, leading officers on a high speed chase on 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 on-ramp.

He lost control of the truck and wrecked after driving on the wrong side of the road against traffic, according to Shelton. Eckel exited the truck, holding a long 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, fearing for their lives, fired at Eckel. At some point, the suspect discharged his own weapon, fatally shooting himself.

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 was shot 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 included allegations of domestic violence, drug violations, evading police, resisting arrest and sex crimes. During the investigation, detectives said drugs were found on Eckel’s person.

The officers have been placed on administrative leave, as part of standard procedure.

After the incident happened, Ceres police turned over the officer-involved shooting part of the investigation over to the Merced County Sheriff’s Department. [TAIL_FL]City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.[TAIL_FR]

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