02/26/2010

Calif. officers attacked in shootout identified

Detective Joel Wahlenmaier was killed, and Officer Javier Bejar is not expected to live

Associated Press

FRESNO, Calif. — Investigators believe the gunman who killed a California deputy in a mobile home shootout was a former security guard who once had a permit to carry weapons, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press Friday.

A person close to the investigation said suspect Rick "Ricky" Ray Liles, 51, who also died in the shooting, was named in a search warrant involving previous arsons and random gunshots that was being served when Thursday's gunbattle erupted.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak about the probe.

Liles' divorce records indicate he had an assortment of radar detectors, police scanners and a gun collection that included five handguns, four rifles and an "a/r" - possible shorthand for assault rifle.

After Liles and his wife, Sandy, legally separated in 2000, he was awarded the guns in a property settlement, according to court records.

The couple, citing an "irremediable breakdown" of their 13-year marriage, agreed to share custody of their 11-year-old daughter.

State records show Liles had been licensed as a security guard since 2002 and had a special certificate qualifying him to carry a baton. A firearm permit he had since 2003 expired last summer.

Loretta Noble, whose daughter married Liles' brother Randy, said she remembered Liles as a quiet, likable man.

"He seemed very, very polite, very nice and he came from a very good family," said Noble of Dinuba. "I couldn't sleep last night, just thinking about it. I don't know what happened to him that he went off this way."

Property records showed Liles had lived at the mobile home for at least three years.

It was not immediately clear if the gunman's injuries were self-inflicted or suffered during the barrage of bullets he exchanged with authorities, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.

Sheriff Margaret Mims said Joel Wahlenmaier, 49, the slain deputy, was a 12-year veteran of the department. The husband and father of two adult children worked as a detective in the homicide bureau and was a longtime member of the search and rescue team.

Wahlenmaier was drawn to law enforcement late in life after spending his early career in construction, said fellow deputy and longtime friend Eric Schmidt. He was an avid hiker who used skills he honed in the Sierra Nevada backcountry during his stint on the rescue team.

"He knew the quirks of people that would help us find them in the field," Schmidt said. "He takes with him a lot of knowledge."

Police Officer Javier Bejar was critically wounded in the gunbattle when he arrived for backup from the nearby town of Reedley. Officials said he was not expected to recover from his injuries.

Reedley City Manager Rocky Rogers said Bejar, who had two years on the police force, was being kept alive so his family can pay their last respects.

"He had a very commanding presence about him, being a former U.S. Marine," Rogers said.

Deputy Mark Harris was wounded and is recovering, Mims said.

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