Mojave chase: gunman led officers across desert
The gunman, who had two hostages in his trunk, fired at passing motorists and the police from his moving vehicle before he was killed in a standoff.
Police were investigating a deadly shooting in this Mojave Desert city when they got a chilling call — from the killer.
Sergio Munoz said he wanted to deliver a "package" to police and to kill officers, but to avoid being outgunned at the station he would instead "wreak havoc" elsewhere.
Munoz kept his word Friday during a nearly hour-long chase. With two hostages in the trunk of his car, Munoz sped along some 30 miles of desert highway, taking shots at passing motorists and trying to run oncoming cars off the road before police killed him.
Investigators were puzzling over what triggered the rampage by Munoz, 39, whose criminal record stretched back at least two decades.
There were signs his life was unraveling. He was arrested last Sunday and Ridgecrest police have said he lost his job recently. A woman who knew him said he was using and dealing heroin.
The violence began at about 5:15 a.m. Friday when police responded to a call at a home where Munoz had been staying. They found a woman shot to death and a man wounded.
Dawn Meier, the sister of the wounded man, told The Associated Press that Munoz had been staying at her brother's house for about two weeks. She said her brother, Thaddeus Meier, told her Munoz was a friend he wanted to help out but that Munoz had been using and dealing black tar heroin.
She moved out of the house a week ago to join her boyfriend, who lived next door, after he insisted she get her 7-month-old son away from the drugs.
Her boyfriend, Derrick Holland, said on Thursday he heard Munoz complaining in the yard about how his life was falling apart and he was losing everything "due to drugs."
Early Friday morning, Munoz showed up and told Thaddeus Meier, "We're going to reduce all of the snitches in town," Dawn Meier said, recounting what her brother said from the hospital where he was being treated for gunshot wounds.
When her brother declined, Munoz shot him at least twice, then shot and killed Meier's girlfriend. Her identity has not been released.
Later that morning, Munoz called a police officer on his cellphone, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a press conference. Munoz said he had a package for police and wanted to come to the station and "kill all the officers but they had too many guns," Youngblood said.
Police now believe the "package" was the hostages.
Nearly two hours later, a sheriff's deputy spotted Munoz's car and a pursuit began through the shrub-dotted desert about 150 miles north of Los Angeles. Munoz 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, 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 got back in the car and sped off.
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 him.
The hostages were flown to a hospital in critical condition, but were expected to survive. Their names have not been released and police have not said anything about their relationship to Munoz.
Munoz is a felon with convictions 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. Dawn Meier said police found a syringe at the home where the slaying would happen five days later.
Ridgecrest is a city of about 27,000 people 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.