CHP officer fatally struck by car while setting spike strip
By Phillip Reese, Stan Oklobdzija and Kim Minugh
PLACERVILLE, Calif. — A Sacramento man ran down and killed a California Highway Patrol officer Tuesday at the end of a 30-mile, high-speed chase through Sacramento and El Dorado counties, CHP officials said.
Douglas Scott Russell, 46, a 22-year veteran of the CHP, was trying to stop David Charles Zanon by putting spikes on Highway 50 at Ponderosa Road near Shingle Springs. Authorities said Zanon, a 38-year-old Sacramento resident, intentionally swerved toward Russell before striking him.
Zanon had tried to ram a Rancho Cordova police officer's car when the chase began and had swerved in an unsuccessful effort to hit another officer who was trying to spread spikes across the highway before he even reached Russell, authorities said.
"We are treating this as a homicide," said Jasper Begay, a CHP spokesman.
Zanon will not be arraigned Wednesday, according to an El Dorado County Superior Court clerk. That most likely will happen Thursday, depending upon his release to jail from the hospital where he was taken Tuesday afternoon.
News of the 12:30 p.m. accident travelled quickly through the ranks of the Highway Patrol. Russell, who lived in Folsom, was a dedicated officer who loved coming to work, officials said.
"To say we are saddened is really an understatement," CHP Commissioner Mike Brown said at the CHP Placerville headquarters.
"The CHP family has suffered another tragic loss. It's our 212th, and I really want to stop counting."
Russell worked out of the CHP's Placerville office for nine years — one of about 30 officers who colleagues said are tightly knit. He is survived by his wife, Lynn.
"It's a family," fellow Placerville Officer Sean Ricci said. "He was well liked by everyone."
The chase began when employees at a Rancho Cordova business noticed an apparently unconscious man in a car parked outside their offices at 9975 Horn Road and called police.
When authorities came to check on the man, he immediately fled in his four-door Eagle, said Sacramento County sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran.
"As soon as he opened his eyes, he threw it into gear," Curran said.
Once the chase began, Zanon tried to ram a Rancho Cordova police officer's car but missed, Curran said.
The pursuit moved to Highway 50 as Zanon led officers past Gold River and Folsom, sometimes at speeds of 100 miles per hour, Curran said.
At the intersection of El Dorado Hills Boulevard, an officer tried to put out spikes to stop Zanon, Begay said. Zanon swerved and tried to hit the officer, who was unable to deploy the spikes, Begay said.
Zanon narrowly missed the officer, and the chase continued.
By the time Zanon got close to the Ponderosa Road intersection, two CHP cars were on his tail and two helicopters — one from the CHP and one from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department — were flying overhead.
Russell was waiting for him with the spike strip that he had laid out on the highway. But Zanon "intentionally aimed his vehicle right at the officer," Begay said.
Begay said CHP procedure is to keep the spike strip on the road for as short a time as possible -- laying it out just before a suspect arrives and pulling it back after he passes.
Zanon had to swerve off the roadway to hit Russell, who had just finished deploying the strip.
The officer fell to the road.
The CHP helicopter flying overhead swooped to the ground, and — within two minutes — officers had pulled Russell inside. They headed west toward UC Davis Medical Center.
Initially, CHP officials said Russell had shot at Zanon's vehicle as Zanon tried to hit him. Later, they said that no shots were fired during the pursuit.
After he reportedly struck Russell, Zanon continued driving. Officers finally knocked him off the highway around Mother Lode Drive, about 30 miles from where he had first eluded officers.
Zanon was taken to Sutter Roseville Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries. He appeared to have been living out of his car, Curran said.
Zanon has a long rap sheet in Sacramento County, including multiple arrests on theft and drug charges. At the time of the chase, he had an active warrant out for resisting arrest, Curran said.
Traffic on Highway 50 was largely shut down for hours Tuesday while officers conducted their investigation, causing major delays.
Jed Smith, 25, and Marcella McEvoy, 22, were coming from Citrus Heights to show off their new 5-month-old puppy to Smith's parents in Shingle Springs. With traffic backed up, they stopped at the Ponderosa Road exit for a quick bite and to get their dog some water.
Both said they were shocked to learn that a CHP officer had died.
"I thought it was just construction," said Smith.
The El Dorado County Sheriff's Department is leading the investigation into Russell's death, El Dorado Sheriff's Lt. Kevin House said. Eight detectives from his office along with investigators from the CHP's major investigations team were on the scene.
A bell-ringing ceremony to honor Russell will be held this morning at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento.
Russell is the second CHP officer to be killed in the line of duty this year. Officer Robert F. Dickey died in a car wreck in the Winterhaven area in June. The last local CHP officer to die on the job was Andrew Stevens, who was shot and killed during a November 2005 traffic stop in Yolo County.
"Today, Californians mourn the loss of Officer Russell who gave his life in the line of duty while protecting his fellow citizens," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "Our law enforcement officers deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for the sacrifices they make every day to ensure our safety."
Copyright 2007 Sacramento Bee
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