RIVERSIDE – New details have emerged about the final hours of the six-day manhunt for a fired Los Angeles police officer believed to have died after engaging in a deadly gun battle with law enforcement in Big Bear.
A couple said Wednesday they are the ones who discovered a man matching 33-year-old fugitive Christopher Jordan Dorner’s description inside a Big Bear cabin they own when they arrived on Tuesday to clean it before a pending rental.
Officials had earlier said two cleaning women had encountered the man in the cabin, which was just yards from a law enforcement staging area set up last Thursday afternoon after Dorner’s pickup truck — apparently disabled by a broken axle — was discovered burning on a forest road.
The proximity of the hideout to where law enforcement officers had gathered daily raised questions about the effectiveness of the search of area homes, including the cabin where the couple apparently found Dorner, but the sheriff’s official in charge of the search said deputies had checked each cabin in the area to determine if any had been broken into and if anyone was inside.
”All of the cabins in that particular area had teams of deputies to check to see if there was any entry …, ” said San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, meanwhile, said deputies did not intentionally set ablaze another cabin where Dorner apparently made his final stand Tuesday when they fired incendiary tear gas canisters into it.
”I can tell you it was not on purpose. We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out,” McMahon said during a news conference Wednesday at department headquarters.
Dorner was being hunted in connection with the slayings of two people in Irvine and a Riverside police officer.
During Tuesday’s firefight in Big Bear, he allegedly fatally shot a San Bernardino County sheriff’s detective, identified by McMahon as 35-year-old Jeremiah MacKay, a 15-year department veteran who is survived by his wife, a 7- year-old daughter and 4-month-old son. Another San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, Alex Collins, was wounded in the shootout, but ”he’s in good spirits and should make a full recovery,” McMahon said.
Although the remains had not yet been forensically identified as Dorner’s, the LAPD on Wednesday lifted the tactical alert that had been in place almost daily during the manhunt. Nonetheless, about a dozen LAPD families threatened in a manifesto allegedly posted online by Dorner last week will continue to receive special protection ”until the department and the protectees feel safe,” LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman, a department spokesman, said at a briefing at LAPD headquarters.
Neiman noted that investigations were continuing into whether Dorner had any accomplices and he said it was not yet known if anyone would receive any of the $1 million reward money that had been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect.
The inferno that consumed the cabin climaxed a wild day of violence in the normally tranquil mountain community, which had been the focus of the Dorner manhunt since his pickup truck was found burning in the area last Thursday.
At 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies received a report of a man matching Dorner’s description stealing a car from a cabin in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Big Bear.
The cabin’s owners, 66-year-old Jim and 56-year-old Karen Reynolds, said they arrived around noon Tuesday to clean it for a pending rental and were surprised to find someone matching Dorner’s description inside.
Telling the couple he wouldn’t harm them and was just trying to clear his name, the man used plastic zip ties to bind their hands and legs and put towels in their mouths and pillowcases over their heads before forcing them into a back bedroom, the couple said.
He told the couple he had been in the cabin since as early as Friday and had watched them from inside as they did yard work outside before he fled to sleep elsewhere, they said.
After Dorner left, the couple managed to free themselves and call authorities.
The stolen vehicle was spotted along Highway 38 by state Department of Fish and Wildlife officers who began chasing the suspect. During the chase, he crashed, abandoned the vehicle and carjacked a man’s silver pickup truck.
The suspect opened fire during the pursuit, striking the officers’ vehicle, according to Fish and Wildlife Lt. Patrick Foy. The officers, who returned fire, were not injured, he said.
Officials say Dorner then engaged law enforcement officers in a wild gun battle while holed up in the cabin on Seven Oaks Road just off Highway 38.
During the standoff, police used a heavily armored vehicle to tear down walls of the cabin, then fired tear gas canisters inside shortly after 4 p.m. By about 4:20 p.m., the cabin was engulfed in flames. Several reports indicated that a single gunshot was heard emanating from the cabin before it burned down. As the fire raged, the sound of exploding ammunition could be heard from inside.
Authorities say Dorner’s killing spree began on Feb. 3, when the former Navy Reserve lieutenant allegedly gunned down the daughter and future son-in- law of an ex-police captain who represented him at a hearing that resulted in his dismissal from the LAPD.
The bodies of 28-year-old Cal State Fullerton assistant women’s basketball coach Monica Quan and her fiance, 27-year-old USC public safety Officer Keith Lawrence, were found in Lawrence’s car in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium building.
The next day, Dorner allegedly posted a 6,000-word manifesto online, vowing to kill named LAPD officers and their families. About 50 Los Angeles police officers and their families were being protected during the manhunt, authorities said.
Last Thursday, Dorner was allegedly involved in a shootout with Los Angeles police guarding an officer’s home in Corona, leaving one officer with a graze wound to the head, police said. About 20 minutes later, he allegedly fired on a pair of Riverside police officers stopped at a red light, killing Officer Michael Crain, 34, and wounding the other, who was expected to recover.
Crain, an 11-year department veteran and ex-Marine, is survived by his wife, Regina, and two children, Ian, 10, and Kaitlyn, 4. He was buried Wednesday at Riverside National Cemetery after a memorial service at Grove Community Church. Among the thousands of people paying their final respects were Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, military veterans and thousands of police officers from around the state and country.