CHRISTOPHER WEBER and STEFANIE DAZIO
Hundreds of California police officers were searching Thursday for a gunman suspected of opening fire at a police station, wounding a deputy with a shot to the face and killing a transient man.
Authorities said they have been a step behind 26-year-old Mason James Lira since he shot at the downtown Paso Robles Police Department before dawn Wednesday. Officials later discovered the body of a man, who had been shot in the head at close range.
“It’s a wide-ranging, full-on, full-scale effort,” said Tony Cipolla, spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County sheriff. “We’re right behind him. You can’t run forever.”
The search intensified Thursday in and around Paso Robles, a tourist destination in California’s central coast wine region. Police closed parts of a freeway and used flash-bangs while searching apartments.
The attack came just five days after law enforcement officers were ambushed farther north in the community of Ben Lomond.
Santa Cruz County sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, was killed and another deputy was injured Saturday in an attack by an Air Force sergeant armed with homemade bombs, an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, authorities said. Sheriff Jim Hart said the suspect, Steven Carrillo, was intent on killing officers.
Carrillo, 32, was arrested and the FBI is investigating whether he has links to the killing of a federal security officer outside the U.S. courthouse in Oakland during a protest against police brutality on May 29. A white van was spotted at both attacks and the FBI is seeking the public’s help to find it.
Prosecutors on Thursday filed 19 charges against Carrillo, who faces life in prison if convicted. He is accused of killing Gutzwiller and attempting to kill four other officers, as well as possessing destructive devices and the components to make others. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, and it was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
In Paso Robles, there were no events or imminent arrests that could have triggered the violence, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said. Investigators didn’t know if the attack was connected to anger swelling nationwide at police over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers, he said.
Authorities have not determined a motive, but Lira, a transient from the Monterey area, was arrested previously for making terrorist threats.
A gas station clerk reported seeing Lira, the suspect, around 2 a.m. Thursday when he came in to buy an energy drink, the TV station KSBY reported. The clerk said Lira was sweaty, exhausted and mumbling to himself but did not do anything threatening.
The events started unfolding around 4 a.m. Wednesday, when Lira fired at police cars as they entered downtown Paso Robles.
Two sheriff’s deputies heard gunshots but didn’t see the attacker until they were outside their patrol car and gunfire targeted them. One was hit in the head. His partner fired back and dragged the deputy behind a police car.
“We feel that this was an ambush, that he planned it, that he intended for officers to come out of the Police Department and to assault them,” Sheriff Parkinson said.
The wounded deputy, Nicholas Dreyfus, 28, had a good prognosis Thursday after surgery.
While officers searched for Lira, they received a report of a body near a train station and found a 58-year-old man shot to death on the tracks. He appeared to be a transient who was camping out overnight. It wasn’t immediately clear when he was shot.
Associated Press writers John Antczak and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.