Hit-Run Probe Ends in Death of Fugitive Parolee
Matthew B. Stannard, Tanya Schevitz, The San Francisco Chronicle
A fugitive parolee who admitted to his girlfriend that he had shot a champion kickboxer to death killed himself Monday in a South San Francisco motel room after a 12-hour standoff with police, authorities said.
The man, whom sources identified as Rodger Wayne Chastain, 23, shot himself around noon after telling his girlfriend he wouldn't be taken alive, then spurning police efforts to talk to him in his room at a Travelodge next to the Bayshore Freeway, police said.
Police said Chastain had past convictions for stealing cars and gun possession and had failed to show up for required visits to his parole officer for the past year. Any contact with police would have resulted in his being returned to state prison for violating parole, authorities said.
Investigators said that might have been the motivation behind Friday's slaying of Alex Gong, 32, a champion Muay Thai-style kickboxer who was shot after chasing down a Jeep Cherokee that had hit his parked car in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood and confronting the driver.
"He knew that if this guy made him stop, the cops were going to check him, and he was going to go back to jail," said San Francisco homicide Inspector Michael Johnson. "He wasn't going to go back to jail. Whether he had to kill somebody else or kill himself, he wasn't going to go back to jail."
The Jeep, which police said was stolen and bore stolen plates, was recovered late Friday in Millbrae.
POLICE INFORMANTS QUESTIONED
Johnson said police had begun looking for Chastain on Saturday after questions to police informants led them to a woman with a grudge against him. She gave police Chastain's name, authorities said.
San Francisco police spread the word, and a tip brought South San Francisco officers to the Travelodge on South Airport Boulevard early Monday.
Police cleared guests out of surrounding rooms and brought in tactical and negotiating teams to speak with Chastain and a woman in the room with him.
Many of those guests, some still wearing their pajamas, spent the morning waiting to return to their cars and clothes.
"We didn't know if it was a terrorist or what," said 65-year-old Roxanne Vergers of Covina (Los Angeles County). "We just opened our drapes, and it was like reality TV."
Chastain's companion, who police said appeared to have been trying to talk him into giving himself up, surrendered at about 6:30 a.m. and spoke with Johnson and Inspector Maureen d'Amico.
The woman said she had been dating Chastain for about a year, police said. She described him as somewhat mysterious -- she didn't know his real last name -- and said he claimed to have shot a police officer in Texas, something police were checking Monday evening.
The girlfriend told police that on Friday afternoon, Chastain had gone to San Francisco to pick her up and parked on Clementina Street, an alley off Fifth Street in the South of Market area.
As he parked, Chastain accidentally struck Gong's car, also a Jeep Cherokee,
the girlfriend said. Rather than wait for the possible arrival of police, she said, he took off.
Gong saw what had happened from the training gym he ran at 444 Clementina St. and gave chase on foot, still wearing yellow boxing gloves and boxing trunks.
Based on police conversations with Chastain's girlfriend, Johnson said, investigators believe that when Gong caught up with the Jeep, Chastain told him he couldn't stop.
"He told the victim, 'I can't stop, I'm wanted by the police, I can't stop and deal with this, I'm sorry, but I gotta go,' " Johnson said.
Gong began striking the car, smashing a window and a turn signal and tried to reach in to turn off the vehicle, Johnson said. At that point, authorities believe, Chastain shot him.
PAROLEE'S GIRLFRIEND'S PLEAS
In the hotel room Monday, as police and the girlfriend tried to encourage him to give up, Chastain made it clear he would not surrender, Johnson said.
"He told her, 'I'm not going to be taken alive,' " Johnson said. "He said, 'I'm not going back to jail.' He knew the game was up."
Police had no further communication with Chastain after the woman left. As the morning wore on, officers used a flash-bang noisemaking grenade to try to get his attention and telephoned his room several times.
Police also used a camera to try to peer beyond a mattress that Chastain apparently had propped in front of his room's window. Officers were unable to see anything useful.
At about 12:23 p.m., tactical officers heard a single gunshot, said South San Francisco police Sgt. Mike Brosnan. Officers soon found Chastain's body next door to the room where he had been staying, Brosnan said.
He said Chastain apparently had broken a hole in the wall and crawled into the adjoining room, presumably in an escape attempt. Police theorize that when he saw no way out, Chastain hid under a mattress and shot himself in the head with a revolver.
Investigators plan to conduct ballistics tests to see whether the weapon Chastain used on himself is the same one used to kill Gong.
Several of Gong's fellow martial arts aficionados drove to the Travelodge to watch the drama unfold. Afterward, Roman Fan, who studies Muay Thai in the East Bay, said the suspect's death brought little comfort.
"I kind of wish he didn't die so we could know if he really did it," Fan said. "I believe in an eye for an eye, but nothing can bring (Gong) back."
Gong's girlfriend, Mai Tran, also said it was more frustrating than comforting to hear that Chastain was dead.
"I'm not easy with the fact that he killed himself," she said, "because I feel there was more to this case than just an accident."
San Francisco's acting Police Chief Alex Fagan said there would be a lot of unanswered questions about the case.
"Here we have a parolee, who stole a Jeep, stole some plates and killed an innocent man," Fagan said. "I wish for the victim's family we could have answers to some of these questions. I feel we owe it to them."