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Man dies in fire sparked by SWAT flash grenade

A member of the SWAT team threw a flash grenade inside the home just before the fire broke out

By Griselda Ramirez
The Salinas Californian

GREENFIELD, Calif. — A tense mood settled over a Greenfield neighborhood Wednesday after one man died in a police search of a suspect who injured three people on New Year's Day outside a Monterey bar.

The victim was identified by the Monterey County Coroner's department as 31-year-old Rogelio Serrato of Greenfield. The cause of his death is still pending an autopsy.

The death came during a raid of a home in Greenfield in which police believed housed a suspect in a New Year's Day shooting at the Mucky Duck bar in Monterey. That suspect, Alejandro Jose Gonzalez, 23, of Greenfield, was not in the Greenfield home Wednesday and remains at large, police said.

Another house on Heidi Street in Greenfield was also raided, but did not yield any suspects. The house where Serrato died is located on San Antonio Drive in Greenfield.

The death prompted about 20 neighbors to gather to pray and cry as Serrato's body was removed from the house. Police from two different SWAT teams dressed in camouflage and carrying M-16 assault rifles waited near the body for the coroner to arrive.

Police had attempted to coax Serrato out of the house for well over an hour before tossing in the flash grenade, which is designed to stun and disorient suspects.

A resident of the neighborhood for 31 years, Ernie Gallardo, was among those who witnessed the SWAT operation. Gallardo knew Serrato since he was a boy.

"What really saddens me is that he had the opportunity to come out and live through it," Gallardo said. "Maybe he would have gone to jail and lived, but he was lying out in the sidewalk instead."

Monterey Police Deputy Chief Philip Penko said Gonzalez, the suspect still at large, was connected to the house on Heidi Street. The home on San Antonio Drive, where Serrato died, was also connected to the shooting, Penko said.

"We are confident there was only one shooter that night," Penko said. "Gonzalez was the one identified to be the shooter."

Gonzalez has two prior felonies in Salinas in 2006, according to the Monterey County Superior Court of California Web site.

Officers were dispatched to the San Antonio Drive home around 9:30 a.m., according to the Monterey Police department.

Using a public address system, they spent some 90 minutes urging the occupants inside to surrender, witnesses and police said.

One woman inside the home cooperated, Monterey police Lt. Leslie Sonne said, but when Serrato remained in the home, authorities opted to thrown in the diversionary grenade. Shortly thereafter, Sonne said, a fire erupted inside the home.

During an interview later Wednesday, Gallardo recounted the actions of the officers.

"They said 'Rogelio Serrato, we have a search warrant; you have to come out with your hands up,' " Gallardo recalled. "And they repeated this continually in Spanish and English. It's really a shame he didn't come out."

Witnesses said one of the SWAT team members threw a flash grenade inside the home just before the fire broke out. The fire is under investigation by the fire department.

Sonne said it was unclear whether the fire was ignited by the device or by someone inside the home.

The death is being investigated by the Monterey County Sheriff's office.

Gallardo said that it seemed like law enforcement officers were outside the San Antonio home for at least two hours before they broke the front windows and threw in the grenade.

"And in a matter of minutes the front of the house was engulfed in flames," Gallardo said.

"I knew Roger since he was a little kid and it breaks my heart he had to lose his life this way," Gallardo said. "Roger was always respectful towards me. Whenever friends were speeding around the neighborhood he would talk to them and the friends wouldn't speed through here anymore."

Greenfield police Chief Joe Grebmeier said his officers are cooperating with the Peninsula authorities with the investigation. Penko said Greenfield police was instrumental in identifying Gonzalez as the shooter.

"He was known to the Greenfield police," Penko said. "They have had contact with him before."

The New Year's Day shooting at the Monterey bar injured three people after employees ordered two women, who they say became unruly, to leave. A member of a group opened fired.

Gonzalez is considered armed and dangerous.

Read more on the Salinas Californian.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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