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October 26, 2013

Suspect slain in Mojave Desert shootout

RIDGECREST, Calif. — A gunman fatally shot a woman, injured a man and then led police on a wild chase through the Mojave Desert with two hostages in his trunk on Friday before he was killed in a shootout with police.

Sergio Munoz, 39, who has a lengthy criminal record dating back at least two decades, began his rampage before dawn when he called an officer on his cellphone, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a press conference. Munoz said he wanted to deliver a package to police and kill officers but, because he would be outgunned, he would “wreak havoc” elsewhere.

Police now believe the “package” was the hostages, Youngblood said.

Nearly two hours later, a sheriff’s deputy spotted Munoz’s car and a pursuit began over roughly 30 miles of highway, through arid stretches of desert about 150 miles north of Los Angeles. He ran traffic off the road, firing at least 10 times at passing vehicles with a shotgun and a handgun. No motorists were hurt, Youngblood said.

At one point during the chase, which lasted more than 40 minutes, Munoz pulled over and the car’s trunk popped open, revealing a man and woman inside. They appeared to shut the trunk, the sheriff said. Munoz then got back in the car and continued driving.

At some point, Munoz told pursuing officers, “’I’m going to shoot them,”’ Youngblood said.

In the end, Munoz pulled over again on U.S. 395, turned in his seat and began shooting into the trunk. As many as seven officers opened fire and killed the man.

The hostages were flown to a hospital and were listed in critical condition and expected to survive.

Authorities didn’t know what triggered the rampage, but the sister of the man wounded in the initial shooting said Munoz was a heroin dealer that had been staying at her brother’s house for about two weeks.

Dawn Meier told The Associated Press her brother, Thaddeus Meier, had been using black tar heroin with Munoz.

She had moved out of the house a week ago to join her boyfriend, Derrick Holland, after he insisted she get her 7-month-old son away from the drug-related traffic.

On Thursday, Holland heard Munoz complaining in the yard about how his life was falling apart and he was losing everything due to drugs.

Police said Munoz had lost his job recently.

Munoz showed up Friday morning and told Thaddeus Meier, “We’re going to reduce all of the snitches in town.”

When her brother declined, Munoz shot him multiple times, along with his girlfriend, who died. Her brother was recovering at a hospital.

Munoz is a convicted felon with crime dating back to 1994 when he was sentenced to more than two years in prison for receiving stolen property.

In May, he was arrested for possessing ammunition as a felon, but the felony charge was dismissed. Munoz was most recently arrested Sunday for investigation of possessing controlled substance paraphernalia and a felony charge of possessing ammunition as a felon.

There was some information that Munoz was using Facebook during the pursuit, but it wasn’t immediately clear what the postings were, Youngblood said. Investigators recovered the shotgun and a handgun.

A crime scene was set up along U.S. 395 at Kramer Junction, where two police helicopters landed amid numerous law enforcement vehicles. The CHP said the highway was closed from Kramer Junction for 10 miles north because of the investigation. Youngblood said the highway would likely be closed into the night while the investigation continued.

Schools in Ridgecrest were placed on lockdown as a precaution but were later reopened.

The city of about 27,000 people is adjacent to the vast Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which sprawls over more than 1,700 square miles of desert. U.S. 395 runs through the western Mojave, below the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada.

Ridgecrest Mayor Dan Clark called the incident disturbing, especially because the small city is relatively crime free.

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