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Search continues for suspect in Fort Bragg councilman's slaying

August 29, 2011 |  9:43 am

Search continues for suspect who killed Fort Bragg councilman

The manhunt continued Monday for a transient suspected of shooting and killing a Fort Bragg councilman as he investigated a reported marijuana-growing operation in remote woods.

Authorities on Sunday said they were searching for Aaron Bassler, a transient in his 30s who the city's mayor said has "had some skirmishes with police over the years."

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office believes Bassler shot and killed Jere Melo, a council member since 1996, in a rugged area near the Noyo River. Melo, who had a degree in forestry and moved to the area in the 1960s to work as a forester, was working as a private security contractor for a timber company. He had received a report of a marijuana-growing operation, Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner said, and went with another man to investigate. Turner said that someone who appeared to have been guarding the marijuana operation "jumped up and opened fire."

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported that SWAT team members, deputies and other law enforcement officials were gathering Monday morning to renew the search. The SWAT team had been scouring the woods Sunday night.

Bassler is considered armed and dangerous, the newspaper reported.

According to local media reports, earlier this year Bassler was arrested after allegedly crashing a truck into a school's tennis courts. In 2009, he faced federal charges after allegedly throwing packages containing strange drawings and writings into the Chinese consulate in San Francisco four times. Bassler completed a pretrial diversion program and the charges were dropped, local media reported.

Fort Bragg, which has a population of about 7,300, is about 160 miles north of San Francisco.

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-- Scott Gold and Kimi Yoshino

Photo: Fort Bragg's central district. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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