Arrest Made in San Francisco-Bay Area Freeway Shootings
Stockton, Calif. man owns semiautomatics, faces drug lab charge
A Stockton gun-fancier facing charges of making drugs in his family garage was jailed Thursday in connection with a burst of at least eight East Bay freeway shootings last month that shattered car windows and left motorists jittery.
Christopher Charles Gafford, 27, described by his family as a doting father, was arrested at his home more than two weeks after the shootings on a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 580 in which eight cars were struck with bullets in little more than an hour.
Gafford, a rookie ironworker who owns a black 2002 Mazda pickup truck that matches the description of the vehicle police said was involved in the gunfire, was held without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on eight counts of attempted murder pending his arraignment Monday in Alameda County Superior Court.
While investigators revealed little about Gafford and declined to discuss a possible motive, court records and interviews indicate that he has been cited twice for speeding, is familiar with weapons and has a pending case in San Joaquin County for allegedly running a methamphetamine lab.
Authorities acknowledged that motorists had been on edge as weeks went by without an arrest in the freeway shootings, in which no one was injured. Two specific tips in the past 48 hours helped lead investigators to Gafford, authorities said.
"I drive the 580 every day, as well as many of my co-workers and friends. I can tell them that we are doing everything we can to ensure their safety," said John Torres, ATF special agent in charge of the San Francisco division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "The good news is we have somebody in custody."
Three months before the shootings, Gafford was booked on felony charges of operating a methamphetamine lab in his garage and related charges, including endangering a child, according to San Joaquin County court records. He was scheduled to return to court this month.
At the time of his arrest, unspecified weapons were confiscated at the home, where Gafford lived with his wife and 4-year-old daughter, prosecutors said.
The suspect's family members were surprised by Thursday's arrest, saying Gafford had recently completed an ironworker apprentice program. His attorney said he believed Gafford had been working on the retrofit of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
"I cannot believe he would do anything like this," said Gafford's half- brother, Jeff Gafford, 21 of Oregon. "He's done the best of the boys that are in our family. It's got to be somebody else. It can't be him."
Gafford's public defender, Eric Taylor, said his client was an easy-going man who had been doing well in the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs required while his case was pending and had reconciled with his wife, whom he said had alerted authorities to his alleged methamphetamine lab.
San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Mary Aguirre said she was surprised that the man she was prosecuting for allegedly running a drug lab could face attempted murder charges in Alameda County. "What's he doing over there?" she asked.
Gafford's wife, at her home in Stockton, declined to comment. His stepmother, Deloris Gafford, and half-brother said they had not known about his drug arrest or his arrest Thursday.
Both described Christopher Gafford as a "big, gentle giant" of a man who owned several guns -- including Glock semiautomatics and a shotgun -- but used them only at target ranges.
"I have guns. That doesn't mean I'm going to shoot somebody on the freeway," Deloris Gafford said. "I used to take the boys to the policeman's gun range."
She described her stepson as a nonviolent man even in youth, when his size -- his childhood nickname was "Baby Huey" -- would make him a target of bullies that he would not fight.
Jeff Gafford said he had gone shooting several times with his brother, who he said often did not even have his own ammunition to bring to the range and who kept his guns locked in a safe, away from his young daughter.
As reporters gathered around the close-cut lawn of Gafford's cream-color, tidy home in the Pacific Gardens neighborhood of unincorporated Stockton on Thursday, neighbors said they couldn't believe that a man they thought was a friendly, devoted father could be the I-580 sniper.
"I can hardly believe it. We've always helped each other out," said Jim Laughlin, 57, a tile-setter who lives two doors down from the Gaffords. He said he once took Gafford salmon fishing in the Mokelumne River and Gafford once soldered a motorcycle stand for him.
"I've never seen him get mad, you know what I mean? He's just somebody you would never expect to do anything like that," he said. "You never know, I guess."
Norma Wojciechowski, 75, described Gafford as a "real nice homebody" who made laundry cabinets for his wife and a play area for his daughter.
A long chain of wind chimes swayed from the home Thursday, near a wooden sign reading "The Gaffords" and a mailbox painted with a lake scene. The only thing distinguishing the home from others on the residential street, lined with American flags, was a small sign above the garage warning of hazardous waste.
Gafford resembles a widely circulated computer-generated sketch of the shooter created by San Leandro Police Detective Cathy Pickard, said CHP Lt. Rob Patrick - but Gafford's attorney said he didn't see the resemblance. Authorities declined to release a booking photo, but records show that Gafford is 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighs 280 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes.
The sketch, as well as a $5,000 reward for tips leading to the shooter's arrest and conviction, led to numerous calls from the public.
Patrick said more interviews are planned as investigators build a case against the suspect. "There are individuals associated with the suspect who we still need to speak with," said Patrick, who declined to elaborate.
The CHP declined Thursday to describe the truck that officers found at Gafford's home and impounded. But public records show that Gafford currently owns a black 2002 Mazda B2300 pickup truck, the same vehicle he was driving when he was stopped for speeding last year.
On April 22, Gafford was stopped in his truck by Brentwood police at Brentwood Boulevard and Pine Street for traveling 52 mph in a 25 mph zone and for failing to have proof of insurance, according to Contra Costa County Superior Court records.
He was stopped again for speeding on a freeway on Aug. 3. In both cases, he was convicted, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.