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Slain city councilman was ambushed by opium grower, police say

August 30, 2011 |  8:03 am

Aaron Authorities continued to search for an alleged drug grower accused of fatally shooting a Northern California city councilman in what appears to have been an ambush.

Jere Melo, a member of the Fort Bragg City Council since 1996, was shot and killed on Saturday in a rugged area near the Noyo River, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner told The Times the small city was in shock and said Melo’s service would resonate for years to come.

“Jere is probably the hardest-working councilman ever,” Turner said. “He’s a guy that gets along with everybody. He brought civility to the council."

Investigators continued to search for the suspect, Aaron Bassler. Officials told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that it appeared Melo and another man came across Bassler's opium poppy farm. Bassler was perched on higher ground when he allegedly ambushed Melo, firing a high-caliber rifle several times at Melo, the paper said. Melo, who was unarmed, was hit several times.

Melo and his wife, Madeleine, had two children, Turner said. For a portion of Melo’s time on the council, he served as mayor.

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, 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 man who accompanied Melo escaped and called authorities on his cellphone.

Bassler, a transient from Fort Bragg who is in his 30s, “has had some skirmishes with the police over the years,” Turner said.

According to local media reports, earlier this year Bassler was arrested after crashing a truck into a school’s tennis courts. In 2009, Bassler 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 Shelby Grad

Photo: Aaron Bassler. Credit: Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office

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