Big Bear visitors undeterred by ongoing Dorner manhunt
Despite a small army of SWAT officers combing the nearby forest in search of an alleged killer, all signs in Big Bear on Saturday appeared to indicate that life was back to normal.
The sun shone overhead and the roads were layered with mud and ice from a sudden surge of tourist skiers and snowboarders looking to take advantage of the 8 inches of snow that has fallen in the last few days.
Police have gone door to door for three days now looking for Christopher Dorner, 33, in Big Bear. The ex-police officer is wanted in the shooting deaths of a Riverside police officer and two people in Orange County. There’s been no sign of him since his car went up in flames Thursday morning on a dirt road between the mountain’s two resorts.
Other than the occasional thumping in the air from a helicopter searching overhead and countless news vans and police cars, it seemed like just another good weekend to hit the slopes in these mountains.
“Business is excellent today,” Dan McKernan, a spokesman for the Big Bear Lake Resort Assn., said. "The snow conditions are phenomenal. It’s a fresh powder day, and everybody’s flocking to have some fun in the snow.”
McKernan said days like Saturday, with blue skies and fresh snow, are referred to as “bluebird days.” Visitors took advantage and thought little about Dorner's whereabouts.
"It would be dumb for him to be up here with his torched vehicle," said Kristy Deas, who was visiting with her husband and three kids from Edwards Air Force Base. "He’s probably somewhere else."
The idea that Dorner is somewhere else has taken hold among the locals and tourists here. But San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Friday that his deputies would continue to search until they have reason to believe Dorner is elsewhere. In a statement, the sheriff’s department said a ground search would resume Saturday morning.
Police say that Dorner has killed three people and wounded two others in a campaign to take revenge on those he blamed for his dismissal from the LAPD four years ago. Investigators are scrutinizing a manifesto published on what they believe was Dorner's Facebook page that threatened "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" against police officers and their families, saying that Dorner has no choice but to kill to reclaim his damaged reputation.
Police accuse him of killing the daughter of a retired LAPD captain and her fiance, who were found shot to death Sunday in a car in Irvine. Early Thursday morning, police said, Dorner shot three police officers, one fatally, in Riverside County.
Only at night are some Big Bear residents weary of Dorner.
“Its kind of eerie," said Jan Waymire, a Big Bear Lake resident enjoying coffee with her friends at Starbucks. “I was shoveling my driveway last night at 8 p.m. And it was so quiet. I just thought, ‘What if he comes up behind me? What if he kidnaps me?’ ”
But even Waymire said she thinks Dorner is long gone. There are a few roads off the mountain, and some believe he escaped before police secured the area.
Leaving the mountain, however, would prove challenging on Saturday. A car fire on Highway 330 in and out of Big Bear ski resort created a backup that extended for miles down the mountain, authorities said.
The fire was not related to the ongoing search.
A northbound Ford Explorer burst into flames about 25 miles south of Big Bear about 9 a.m., creating a significant backup in both directions, authorities said.
By 9:50 a.m., firefighters had extinguished the fire and travelers were soon on their way to enjoy the eight inches of new snow that fell on the mountain Friday.
-- Joseph Serna, Hailey Branson-Potts, Louis Sahagun, Phil Willon, Kenneth R. Weiss and Matt Stevens
Photo: Law enforcement officers assemble before continuing the search for Christopher Dorner on Saturday in Big Bear. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times