Police fired at least 400 rounds in wild California shootout

Fresno BeeFebruary 26, 2010 

FRESNO, Calif. — Ricky Liles was ready to kill when sheriff's deputies knocked on his door.

The 51-year-old Minkler resident, suspected in a series of arson fires and shootings, had told his wife several times in recent months that he intended to shoot officers and then take his own life rather than go to prison.

Officials provided details Friday about the gunbattle during which Liles killed one deputy, critically injured a police officer and wounded another deputy before killing himself.

Investigators attempting to serve a search warrant at Liles' mobile home Thursday morning were met by a barrage of gunfire from Liles. Then, according to police, Liles told his wife that he was sorry for what he was about to do. He told her that he loved her. She told him she loved him.

Diane Liles took cover in the bedroom and laid face-down on the floor. She later told police she didn't try to stop her husband because she didn't think he would listen.

As at least 150 officers from nearly a dozen agencies soon surrounded the mobile home off Highway 180 about six miles east of Sanger, Ricky Liles holed up in the living room. He had stashed away six handguns and four rifles, police said.

Liles used two high-powered rifles -- both with scopes -- to shoot and kill Fresno County deputy Joel Wahlenmaier, 49, and wound deputy Mark Harris, 48.

About 30 minutes later, in another hail of gunfire, Liles also shot Reedley police officer Javier Bejar in the head from a distance of about 80 yards, police said. Bejar, 28, had taken cover behind a police car when he was shot. He is not expected to survive.

Over about two hours, some two dozen officers fired about 400 bullets into the home, police said. But in the end, police say, Liles ended his own life. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said his body was found face down in the bedroom with a handgun next to him. His only wound was a single bullet to the head.

His wife -- to the surprise of many officers -- walked out of the mobile home alive. She later told police that Liles had been taking several medications, including Prozac.

"She said he had become increasingly more paranoid as of late and would frequently look outside the window to see who was outside," Dyer said.

Liles rarely came out during daylight hours, according to Don Burkett, who works in Minkler.

Fresno police say they are investigating whether Liles had mental health problems.

Dyer said there was no indication that Diane Liles, who had been married to Ricky Liles for three years, assisted her husband in the attack on officers. He said she will not face criminal charges.

As Fresno police continued to investigate the shooting on Friday, families, friends and fellow law enforcement colleagues tried to make sense of what happened.

Wahlenmaier and Bejar are being hailed as heroes.

Bejar remained on life support Friday at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. His sister, Maricela Chavez, said doctors told her that there is no hope for recovery.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said her department is reeling from Wahlenmaier's death. "We are all hurting right now," she said.

Harris, the injured sheriff's deputy, has been released from the hospital and is recovering.

Authorities had come to Liles' mobile home Thursday morning with a search warrant because he was suspected of setting a series of fires in the Minkler area and also was a suspect in half a dozen recent shootings, including one that injured a neighbor.

Seven sheriff's deputies and four state fire investigators went to the mobile home to serve the warrant.

Mims said the investigators had planned for how they would serve the warrant.

She said they were armed and were wearing protective vests when they approached the home.

"Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned," Mims said.

Read the full story at fresnobee.com

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