O.C. shooter runs out of gas, then 'executes' victim, police say
A man suspected in a series of shootings across Orange County that left four people dead and at least two others wounded on Tuesday apparently approached one of his victims after a vehicle he carjacked ran out of gas, authorities said.
Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said the suspect stole the vehicle from a gas station near Red Hill Avenue and the 5 Freeway in Tustin, but apparently picked one that had not been filled. When the vehicle ran out of gas at about 5:15 a.m., the man stopped near the 55 Freeway and McFadden Avenue and approached a BMW.
“He got out of the vehicle, confronts our victim who is in his BMW," Bertagna said. "He orders him out of the vehicle, walks him to the curb and executes our victim."
Bertagna said that aside from an initial homicide at a Ladera Ranch home, it appeared as though the victims were randomly selected.
The killings appeared to begin in Ladera Ranch, where Orange County deputies received a call from inside a Red Leaf Lane home at 4:45 a.m. about a shooting, Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino said. Responding deputies found a woman dead inside who had been shot multiple times.
Jason Glass, who lives across the street, said he was working in his garage when he heard what he now believes were three to five gunshots between 2 and 3 a.m. About 4 a.m., Glass said, he "heard a bunch of ruckus" — no yelling, but lots of doors slamming — before a car sped away from the house.
"I just thought somebody was being really loud and obnoxious," Glass said.
The suspect, initially described as a man in his 20s, fled the area in an SUV and headed toward Tustin, where Amormino said "multiple incidents" occurred.
The first, authorities said, occurred near Red Hill Avenue and the 5 Freeway, where authorities received a report of a man with a gun about 5:10 a.m. The suspect attempted a carjacking, Tustin police Lt. Paul Garaven, opened fire and wounded a bystander.
About five minutes later, the suspect stopped the BMW near the 55 Freeway in Santa Ana, officials said.
Around that time, authorities also received reports about a man shooting at moving vehicles on the 55 Freeway. Officials believe the man fired either while driving or after he stopped and got out of his vehicle. At least three victims have reported minor injuries or damage to their cars, and investigators asked that others who believe they may have been fired upon to contact police.
Shortly after, another shooting and carjacking was reported on Edinger Avenue near the Micro Center computer store in Tustin, Garaven said. One person was killed and another was taken to a hospital.
Co-workers identified the men as plumbers who were working at the under-construction Fairfield Inn on Edinger Avenue.
Officers spotted the suspect in a stolen vehicle, followed him into the city of Orange and initiated a traffic stop near the intersection of East Katella Avenue and North Wanda Road, Garaven said.
The suspect then shot and killed himself, authorities said. A shotgun was recovered, but officials said other weapons might have been involved earlier.
In Orange, financial planner Kenneth Caplin said he had a clear view of the gruesome drama that unfolded Tuesday on the street outside his office.
From a conference room window, Caplin saw the police investigators at work, a white work truck up on a curb, and the suspect lying dead on the ground, with blood streaked across the pavement.
"It's scary.... This just happened right here," Caplin said hours later, as a team in biohazard suits scrubbed away at the street in an afternoon drizzle. "It's ludicrous."
Caplin, 71, said he is a pistol instructor for the NRA. What happened Tuesday only affirmed for him the need to stay armed.
"He had no chance," he said of one of shooting victims. "The bad guys are armed; the good guys aren't. If I was in that position -- with a CCW [concealed weapon] -- that wouldn't have happened."
He added: "Innocent people -- like what happened today -- don't have a chance."
He said he was relieved the perpetrator ended it by taking his own life. "That's a bad guy," he said of the man he saw splayed on the street. "Doesn't bother me at all."
Amormino said deputies were still trying to piece together a possible motive and the relationship between the suspect and victims, including the woman at the first incident in Ladera Ranch. Authorities said they had received no previous calls to the residence.
Glass, the neighbor, said a couple lived at the home with three children. The family was quiet, he said.
“No noise ever came out of that house,” he said. “No cops ever came to that house, nothing. This is really weird.”
In addition to the Sheriff's Department, the FBI, the CHP and the Santa Ana and Tustin police departments are assisting with the investigation.
Craig Heising, a project superintendent at the Tustin construction site, described the slain plumber as a "good guy" with a "good heart."
"He showed up every day, on time, ready to do his share of work. When I saw police pull the yellow tarp over him, I was just overwhelmed by the senseless of it," Heising said. "It's a classic case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Bertagna, the Santa Ana police official, was asked if he had seen anything like this before. “Last week," he replied.
Bertagna was referring to the series of shootings attributed to former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner, who is suspected of killing four people and wounding three others before he died in a shootout with police near Big Bear.
"It's not something you see very often," Bertagna said.
— Kate Mather and Hailey Branson-Potts in Los Angeles, Anh Do and Mike Anton in Tustin, Nicole Santa Cruz in Ladera Ranch, Rick Rojas in Orange