By Mike Pearson
Editor’s note: This report is based on information provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office, CNN affiliate KTLA and cabin owner Candy Martin.
(CNN) — In calmer days, the two California Department of Fish and Wildlife officers riding in a truck rolling down State Route 38 would have been thinking about squirrel hunting or fishing regulations.
But on Tuesday, like everyone else in the mountainous California country known as Big Bear Lake, they were thinking about fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner. They were on the lookout for a purple Nissan he might be driving.
Two house cleaners told police earlier in the day that a man they thought was Dorner tied them up and took their Nissan. Now police throughout the region, including Fish and Wildlife wardens, were keeping an eye out for it,
They spotted two school buses for the Bear Valley Unified School District barreling down the other side of the highway. Driving close behind them was a purple Nissan.
After days of false leads, going door-to-door, searching frozen mountain passes, the officers thought this might be the break in the case.
The warden at the wheel hit his brakes, trying to make a U-turn on the narrow pine-lined road.
An officer radioed in the message that California law enforcement had been waiting for: We found Dorner.
And then he was gone again.
Dorner apparently realized he’d been spotted and floored the car, passing the buses and disappearing up the road. It almost worked.
The Fish and Wildlife officers passed the buses and — thinking the Nissan was just around the bend — kept driving. In reality, the Nissan had turned onto another road, eventually crashing.
Sometime later, Dorner came across Rick Heltebrake in a white pickup. Heltebrake instantly recognized the big man as Dorner.
“He just came out of the snow at me with his gun at my head,” Heltebrake told CNN affiliate KTLA. “He said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. Just get out of the car and start walking.’ ”
Heltebrake started walking.
By this time, two more Fish and Wildlife vehicles, traveling together, had joined the pursuit. An officer in the first vehicle noticed Heltebrake’s white pickup moving fast and erratically down the hill and thought he spotted Dorner in the truck as it passed.
But before the first officer had time to warn his colleagues or pick up the radio, Dorner rolled down his window and pumped multiple pistol rounds into the second Fish and Wildlife truck as the two vehicles passed on narrow, twisty Glass Road.
One officer got out of the second vehicle and fired multiple rounds from his AR-15 rifle at Dorner’s vehicle.
Heltebrake, a ranger at a nearby Boy Scout camp, radioed that he heard gunfire.
“Ten to 20 rounds maybe,” he said.
Next, Dorner ditched Heltebrake’s truck, ran into the woods and barricaded himself inside a cabin owned by Candy Martin. The home was built, she said, in the 1920s, to give horse-and-buggy travelers between Redwoods and Big Bear a place to spend the night.
Long bursts of gunfire broke through the silence, some of it captured by a reporter working for CNN affiliates KCBS and KCAL, on a cell phone.
Two deputies were shot. One of them died later at a hospital.
Then the shooting apparently stopped. Dorner found himself surrounded by police, who moved in and began to tear down the walls of the cabin.
“All right we’re gonna go forward with the burn … like we talked about,” said a voice on a local police scanner frequency. “We have fire in the front, he might come out the back.”
A single gunshot was heard from inside the cabin.
Had Dorner shot himself? Police will not yet say.
At about 6 p.m. local time, the cabin was engulfed in flames, as an American television audience watched live images beamed from news choppers.
The piercing sound of exploding ammunition was heard coming from inside the flaming cabin.
By 11 p.m. local time, authorities entered the smoldering remnants of the cabin to find charred human remains.
Is the body Dorner’s? Probably. But police are taking no chances. They are waiting for an autopsy to make an announcement of the final determination.
CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.
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