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Cop on phone with wife while fighting for life

A Fresno cop mistaken for a gang member was on the phone with his wife when he was shot at and returned fire

By Jim Guy
The Fresno Bee

FRESNO, Calif. — An off-duty Fresno police officer was on the phone with his wife when a Bulldog gang member began shooting at him from another car at a southeast Fresno intersection Monday night, Chief Jerry Dyer said Tuesday.

The officer, who was not injured, returned fire, wounding both the driver and the gun-wielding passenger as his wife remained on the line.

"It's difficult enough for a wife to know someone just tried to kill her husband," Dyer said. "But to hear all that and not be able to do anything about it has emotionally traumatized her."

Still, Dyer added, the couple is "going to be fine."

Dyer wouldn't name the officer but said he's been a regular officer for seven years and a reserve officer for two years.

Dyer said the two men, identified as Ricky Burciaga and Mario Rangel, apparently fired at the officer because they thought he was a gang member.

And the chief made it clear that his department is going to step up the heat on the city's gang members.

How to help: Police are searching for a silver 1997 Honda Civic involved in the shooting. The license number is 6JMH848. Anyone who sees the car is asked to call 911.

Burciaga and Rangel were caught Monday night after they sought treatment for their wounds. Dyer said he expects each to be charged with attempted murder when they are booked into jail. He said the more serious charge of attempted murder on a police officer probably isn't on the table because Burciaga and Rangel likely didn't know they were attacking an officer.

The chief described the gun battle that erupted just after 8 p.m. Monday between the unidentified officer and the men at Cedar and Butler avenues:

The officer, dressed in a black shirt and gym shorts, was about to arrive for a night shift at the southeast Fresno police substation. He had just pulled off Highway 180 and was southbound on Cedar at Tulare Avenue when he noticed that a passenger in a silver Honda Civic was staring at him.

When the passenger began shouting at him and flashing gang signs, the officer, who was on a speaker phone, told his wife to write down the car's license number. He also reached for his duty sidearm in a bag on the right-front passenger seat. The officer slowed to let the other car go by, but instead the Civic began to follow.

The officer was in the left lane when he pulled up behind another car at Butler. There was another car in front in the right lane when the Civic pulled up to the right and slightly behind the officer and the passenger began to shout, "You bang? You bang?"

That's when the passenger raised a handgun with both hands and fired through the driver-side window at the officer. The officer returned fire through a passenger side window and saw the passenger fall backward. Dyer said the officer, who was blocked by cars in front and back, felt trapped, and continued to fire. The car in front then moved and the officer sped off.

A witness reported that the driver of the Civic jumped from the Civic and fired at the back of the officer's car as he drove to the southeast police substation just south of the intersection.

Other police officers drove to Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno in case the Civic showed up there with wounded suspects. Burciaga, suffering from a gunshot wound, arrived there with Victor Tapia, who was not injured. Police Monday night reported that three men, including Tapia, were wounded in the shooting, but Dyer said Tuesday that was not the case.

Dyer described what Rangel and Burciaga did immediately after the shooting: Rangel drove about a mile to a home near Fifth Street and Woodward Avenue and honked his horn; Tapia and another man got in the Civic as Rangelgot out. The unidentified man dropped off Burciaga and Tapia at CRMC and sped away in the Civic.

Fresno County Sheriff's deputies joined the chase about 30 minutes after the shooting. Dyer said the sheriff's office received a call from Rangel's aunt saying he was in the area of Manning Avenue and Highway 99 south of Fresno suffering from a stomach problem — that's all Rangel told his aunt. Arriving deputies found Rangel at the scene and when they helped him from a van, a bullet rolled out of his clothing. Deputies traced the license number of the van and determined it came from the same home as the Civic.

Officers are still looking for the fourth man and the car.

Dyer praised the officer, who he said "acted heroically." He added that if the officer had not been armed, he would not be alive Tuesday.

The chief expressed concern because it was unlikely that Burciaga and Rangel could have known their target, in plain clothes and driving his own car, was a police officer. That poses a threat not just to police, but to everyone in the city, he indicated.

Dyer called the actions of Burciaga and Rangel "absolutely intolerable," and had a warning for the Bulldog gang:

"Starting today, we're going to be doing things differently.

"We're going to take away their anonymity. We're going to do search warrants and it's not going to stop. This was an off-duty police officer, but it could have been anybody."

Copyright 2013 The Fresno Bee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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