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“The Running Shootout”

By Darryl J. Kimball
Photos by Rocky Laws

On October 5, 2005, I was paired up with Parry Jameson in one of our patrol helicopters.  It was a Wednesday afternoon, around 3:00.  It was time for us to wind down and hand the baton to the night shift.

On our way back, Parry and I noticed that we were a little low on fuel.  We were almost over our base at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, getting ready to land, when we got a radio call.

“ASTREA, we have a pursuit in our city. Can you switch over?”  It was the San Diego Police Department.

“We’re on southern frequency,” said their dispatcher, who gave me a location in San Diego that I didn’t immediately recognize.

“10-4,” I said into the radio. “Switching over.”  I hit the zone button on the radio to bring up San Diego PD, and then toggled over until I got to their Southern Division frequency.

The first thing Parry and I heard was a police officer yelling into his radio, “He’s shooting at me again!  He just shot at me again!”

Parry and I looked at each other.  “Holy crap, dude, get this thing moving!” I said.

We pulled a transition over ASTREA base and came straight down the runway in front of our building.  We could see our night crew prepping their helicopter out on the ramp.

Parry and I were doing about 115 knots.  The pursuit had turned into a running shootout with a suspect who was driving a black Honda Civic.  He was wanted for a felony warrant for a recent robbery that had occurred in the area.

I switched back to the San Diego PD radio frequency.  Parry and I heard the same officer, still in trouble.  “He shot at me again!”  The officer put out his location as he blew through several intersections.  Then he said, “I lost the vehicle. I lost the vehicle!”  He transmitted the last location where he’d seen the suspect vehicle, along with the direction it was heading in.

Up in the cockpit Parry and I were thinking, oh my god, please don’t lose the vehicle!  We certainly weren’t faulting the officer; he was just doing his job. 

We were hoping that since we were low on fuel, en route to the call, and trying to help, that the pursuit didn’t end before we got there.  The radio was silent for about 30 seconds.  Parry and I were still headed to the last reported location. 

Then another police officer came up on the air, “I’ve got him going eastbound!”  He gave everyone the name of the street he was on.  The pursuit was heading toward the county area of Spring Valley.  Hell yeah, I thought to myself, he’s got him.

The San Diego officers came up on air again, “He’s shooting again! He’s shooting again!”

The suspect headed into Spring Valley, yanked the steering wheel in his Civic, and pulled a tire-screeching U-turn.

Just as Parry and I crested the hills, we picked up the pursuit as the Civic roared onto the South Bay Expressway, headed back westbound.  I looked down and started trying to pick out the car.

“I got ‘em!” I shouted into the intercom.

“All right,” said Parry, “here we go.”

I saw the Civic and pursuing patrol cars screaming up the on-ramp.  Parry brought us in, backed up on the cyclic and slowed us to about 80 knots.  He settled the helicopter into a parallel course, to the left and slightly behind the Civic.  The suspect was still brandishing his gun, so we had to be careful.

“I don’t want to get hit with any rounds, so we’re going to stay high and wide,” Parry said.

“I’m good with that,” I said. “But we’ve got to stay close enough so I don’t lose this car.”

Even with a long line of patrol cars chasing the suspect, a big fear we had in situations like this was taking our eyes off the vehicle.  On a major freeway with four or five lanes of traffic in either direction, we might never find that car again.  If it was a car that blended in really well—say, a standard four-door Toyota Camry—and you took your eyes off of it for even a second, you might not be able to zero in on it again.

Fortunately the expressway was a smaller road, with only two lanes in each direction.  That upped my odds.  Once I got my eyes on the Civic there was no freaking way on God’s green earth that I was going to take my eyes off it.  I didn’t want to be the guy who lost the car that was shooting at cops.

There was an incredible amount of activity going on: the noise of the helicopter, the pursuit below, and the radio traffic.  I took a few deep breaths to stay calm.

Then I saw the gun come out of the Civic’s window.

“Parry,” I said, “he’s about to fire again!”

The suspect blasted more rounds back at the pursuing officers.  As far as I could tell, he didn’t hit anything.

There’s a philosophy in most pursuit policies that once an airship gets overhead, it calls the pursuit so the people on the ground can focus on driving.  Also, once the airship is overhead, the officer in charge of the ground units can order his patrol cars to drop out of the pursuit, in the interest of public safety, so the situation is less dangerous.  That’s one of the benefits of a police helicopter.

That’s what the Lieutenant from the San Diego PD was thinking when he got on the radio to talk to his patrol cars.  “Back off a little bit and let the airship take it,” he said.

That was fine.  The problem for me was that people didn’t always know what was going on in the cockpit.  Once the suspect got off the freeway, I wasn’t taking my eyes off the vehicle to look at my moving map so I could call out the streets that he was on.  And once he bailed out and started running, I needed cops in the area to cordon him off, to get the perimeter up so that we didn’t lose him.

I got on the radio to the police cars.  “Don’t drop back too far,” I told them, “because I need units if this guy bails and runs.”

Sure enough, the suspect got off the freeway.  He headed back to the same area where the pursuit started.  A lot of guys do this, probably because they don’t have any other plan, so they end up going back to what they know.

The Civic sped into a nearby residential area.  “Oh crap!” I exclaimed. “He’s headed right for that school!”

It was now about 3:30.  Kids were leaving school for the day.

“Hold on, stand by,” I told the ground units.  “He’s coming up on a school.” 

I looked more closely.  It was an elementary school.  Young kids.  And this guy was speeding toward them, waving a gun. 

Fortunately he drove straight through the school zone and out the other side, without firing a shot.  That was a huge relief.

I watched as the patrol cars pursued the suspect through the neighborhood below.  Because of all of the twisty residential streets, the Civic had slowed down to about 30 miles an hour.  (News reports would later report witnesses saying that the driver was laughing as he shot at police.)

Two patrol cars were approaching an intersection from the west; they were going to get in position to cut off the Civic.  Meanwhile the Civic was coming toward the intersection from the south.

The cops couldn’t see the Civic.

I didn’t know what the street names were, but somehow I had to warn the officers that the suspect was right around the corner from them.  I got on the radio again, “Okay, two police department units just pulling up to the stop sign at the intersection, be careful.  He’s right around the corner from you.”

Both officers dove out of their patrol cars and ran around behind them, taking up defensive positions with their cars as cover.  Staying behind the wheel of a patrol car in a situation like this makes you a sitting duck.  You don’t want to be there when the bad guy starts shooting.

At this point the suspect wasn’t really trying to get away. We’d find out later that he had meth in his system. That’s what meth does to you: it makes you do crazy things.

The suspect drove right by the police cars, shooting at them.  The police officers returned fire.  The Civic headed through the residential streets and eventually came out on Reo Drive, which runs north and south.  The suspect drove the car up onto the center median and crashed into a stop sign, which got stuck under the front wheels of his car just as it reached the intersection.

Several patrol cars drove up.  The suspect continued to shoot at the cops.  Everything happened very quickly.  I was still focused on the suspect vehicle.

I don’t recall seeing any cops get out of their cars.  I just recall a lot of glass flying around, and knowing that the shootout was about to come to an end.

A police vehicle came up on the right side of the Civic—really, really close.  The officer inside opened fire.  He was able to shoot the suspect multiple times in the neck and head.

A moment later all of the shooting stopped.  I knew the guy was dead.  You don’t take multiple rounds from multiple cops whom you’ve been shooting at for the last 15 minutes and survive.

I had my binos up and examined the suspect vehicle.  “The suspect is motionless,” I told everyone.

The cops slowly approached the vehicle and disarmed the suspect.  He was dead.  He had a loaded nine-millimeter Glock in his lap.

Afterward the District Attorney’s office conducted an investigation and eventually ruled that the shooting and actions by the officers were justified.  News reports indicated that the suspect and the police had exchanged shots in nine separate locations.  It was one of the biggest running shootouts between a suspect and police that San Diego had seen in several decades.

About the Author:
Darryl Kimball, a sergeant and helicopter pilot with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, came to California from his hometown of Oktaha, Oklahoma. His lifelong dream was to fly helicopters. After 15 years on the patrol beat, he joined the department’s air unit, ASTREA (Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies) in 2005. Darryl runs the popular blog policehelicopterpilot.com and is the author of the new book Catch the Sky: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Police Helicopter Pilot, available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Posted in: Human Interest


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