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Man arrested in connection to 14-year-old attempted homicide

Fourteen years after he allegedly fired a high-powered handgun several times at a sheriff's deputy in Dos Palos during a vehicle stop gone awry, a 38-year-old Shafter man has been arrested on attempted murder charges.

Roman Correa Rodriguez was arrested at a Shafter residence Sunday. His apprehension followed a joint investigation with the Merced County Sheriff's Department and the Shafter Police Department, according to Deputy Paul Barile, department spokesman.

Deputy Joe Lara, the officer who escaped injury when .45-caliber bullets strafed his patrol car, still patrols Merced, Planada and Le Grand areas. He said Monday afternoon he doesn't harbor any ill will or hatred toward Rodriguez but is glad he is being brought to justice.

"I saw the guy clearly; he just had a stone face. It's just one of those things. I thought this day would come and I'm looking forward to seeing him in court," Lara, 48, said.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, a sergeant at the time of the Sept. 20, 1993 shooting, remembers seeing Lara's Chevrolet patrol car the next day, with a gaping bullet wound in the driver door at shoulder height.

"He was a very, very lucky person that night. We're very ecstatic that he (Rodriguez) has been captured and is being brought to justice," Pazin said.

Lara said he always looks forward to going to work and said being a deputy is a good job.

"You get used to doing your job. I've been pretty fortunate, I think," Lara said.

Lucky indeed, according to Undersheriff Bill Blake who said it was amazing Lara wasn't killed in the fusillade of high-caliber bullets coming from the black Pontiac Firebird Lara was trying to stop near Golden Gate and Valeria avenues in Dos Palos. The men escaped in a cotton field after a seven-mile chase.

"I was the Westside station commander at the time and saw the (patrol) car. He (shooter) shot at it at point-blank range and blew out the window. He (Lara) miraculously walked away unscratched," Blake said.

Three of the four men in the Firebird were caught or surrendered following a manhunt that extended from the 11:53 p.m. shooting that Sunday night into the early morning hours the next day. A good description was developed on Rodriguez who allegedly fled to either Orosi or Bakersfield areas following the shooting, Lara recalled.

Lara said he first tried to stop the Firebird when he noticed a headlight out near the Circle K convenience store in downtown Dos Palos. The Firebird turned down a dead-end street and had turned around as Lara approached.

Suspecting someone in the car had a gun, Lara backed up the patrol car as the Firebird approached from the opposite direction. He discovered his patrol car was hit three times, once in the front fender, under the driver's side spotlight and in the driver's door.

Lara said the windows were up on the patrol car and the bullet hit and bent metal rollers on the window frame. Pazin said the bullet was stopped inside the metal door panel.

Lara's first five years were spent as a reserve sheriff's deputy before he was hired full-time in 1992. In another incident, he said he was stabbed in the arm while his partner shot and killed the assailant. Last May in Planada, four gangsters rang out shots over Lara's head.

Rodriguez remained among the top 10 wanted fugitives on the department's Most Wanted List for years.

Barile said Rodriguez has been evading law enforcement for the past 14 years and was taken into custody without incident. He will be transferred to Merced County Jail in the next several days.

Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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