By Andrea Bulfinch
Foster's Daily Democrat
BRENTWOOD, Calif. — Whether he was able to draw his firearm before being fatally shot in a barrage of gunfire is an answer only slain Brentwood Police Officer Stephen Arkell would know.
There is no doubt, however, that his actions last Monday saved an unknown number of lives.
His weapon, along with six additional firearms, were recovered from the 46 Mill Pond Road residence where a resident gunned down the responding officer, but the ensuing fire and explosion on May 12 destroyed all evidence that would normally be evaluated in a police investigation, according to Sgt. Joseph Ebert during a press briefing Monday evening at the town fire department.
"The fire destroyed a great deal of evidence we'd have liked to recover," he said.
He also said that based on an evaluation of the layout of the home, Arkell, who was wearing a protective vest at the time, was "at an extreme disadvantage" walking into the structure — as would any other officer following him, including Fremont officer Derek Franek, the second officer to respond.
Franek escaped through the rear of the home after entering what Ebert called the only "viable entrance" — the front door.
Franek, whom Ebert deemed "heroic," was also immediately met with gunfire, and was the one to determine Arkell had been fatally wounded.
The second floor of the unit, situated in a duplex, had an exposed window area to the unit's lower level. It's a feature Ebert said one would not expect.
While Arkell could have waited for others to respond, his assessment and subsequent entrance into the home was what ultimately saved additional lives, Ebert said.
"Nothing that he did, not only was it not wrong, it was exemplary," Ebert said of Arkell. "It would have been four other people standing there, taking fire."
Walter Nolan, 86, was involved in what Ebert described as a "vicious argument" with his son, Michael Nolan, 47. Though previous reports have said there were no calls to police regarding the two men, known to have an argumentative history, Ebert said at least one neighbor reported a call being made with Arkell as the responding officer.
He said there has been no evidence found of that claim. He also said Walter Nolan has been unable to answer questions from investigating law enforcement and therefore, there are very few answers about the actual events of May 12.
"People would assume that he has the answers to what went on," Ebert said of the father. "Unfortunately, we genuinely believe Mr. Nolan is not able to relay the answers."
The basement of the home, which became engulfed in a four-alarm blaze including an explosion of unknown origin, had been filling with propane gas for about an hour before the eruption, Ebert said.
Gas came from the piping in the home. Three volleys of gunfire came from an elevated position, though the exact location remains unknown.
It is not known what was used to start several small fires throughout the home or what was ignited, according to Christopher Porreca, team supervisor of the National Response Team for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms. However, it is known that Nolan seemed to do so in a manner that was intended to "beat the sprinkler system."
Ebert described the accumulating gas in the basement and house and the resulting explosion as "an unintentional consequence of his actions."
He also said there was no evidence at any point during the evening that Michael Nolan exited the home.
His father was taken to Exeter Hospital and released to family that same night.
Three handguns and three rifles, all legally owned — though to whom is unclear — were recovered from the suspected shooter.
"Decisions were made for the right reasons," Ebert said about not sending additional law enforcement into the home. He said everything was done to recover Arkell's body that night.
The 46 Mill Pond Road property has been turned over to its owners, the community and an unnamed insurance company, Ebert explained.
There was no further information released regarding the autopsy of Michal Nolan.
Associate Attorney General Jane Young said no further information is expected in the next few days.
Copyright 2014 the Foster's Daily Democrat
McClatchy-Tribune News Service