Parolee sought in Mendocino County shooting
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 7:45 a.m.
Mendocino County authorities have found themselves in the throes of a rural manhunt again, this time in search of a parolee suspected of shooting at a sheriff's deputy during a Monday night vehicle pursuit outside Ukiah.
Walter Kristopher Miller, 42, is believed to be armed and dangerous, and likely in possession of at least one of five firearms stolen earlier in the night from a Potter Valley home, before a routine traffic stop launched what became a potentially deadly chase.
A second man, Christopher Skaggs, 30, is in custody after his capture in Ukiah on Tuesday morning, authorities said.
Skaggs is held without bail after his arrest on a host of criminal charges, including suspected attempted murder of a peace officer, felony evasion and conspiracy.
The Monday night pursuit and shooting drew law enforcement officers from two counties into a rugged area of rural Mendocino County west of Ukiah in a case reminiscent of a 2011 search for a two-time killer near Fort Bragg.
Santa Rosa police and the U.S. Marshal's Office, among other agencies, remained involved in the search for Miller on Tuesday, Mendocino County sheriff's officials said.
Miller is believed to have numerous ties to Sonoma County and was arrested there for parole violation three times last year, Sheriff Tom Allman said.
"He's extremely dangerous," Allman said during a news conference Tuesday.
Allman said the round-the-clock search was being conducted with a level of care informed by a five-week search in the woods outside Fort Bragg, where a man who had fatally shot two men over 16 days in August 2011 was eventually shot and killed himself. In an earlier episode, the suspect, Aaron Bassler, had opened fire on several deputies indicating, authorities said at the time, that he might be surrendering.
Allman said one lesson learned from the Bassler case was "not to rush into a situation, but be methodical.
"If we have a man with a gun in the woods, we're certainly not going to rush in," he said. "We have the experience and the ability to catch him, but we're going to do it in a safe way. No one has been hurt in this investigation so far."
The Monday night shooting resulted from a deputy's attempt to pull over a Ford Thunderbird with an expired registration shortly before 10 p.m. on South State Street in Ukiah, near the local airport, the sheriff's office said.
The driver, later determined to be Skaggs, pulled over but then sped away as the deputy approached the window, initiating a pursuit through the south part of town at speeds of 80 to 90 mph, authorities said.
The vehicle headed west on Highway 253 and slowed to closer to 50 or 60 mph but was weaving around cars on the winding road, authorities said.
At some point, the sedan's passenger, believed to be Miller, leaned out the window from a distance of about 35 yards and fired five or six shots at the pursuing deputy, authorities said. Detectives said the driver was entering opposing lanes at the time and appeared to be steering in a manner that allowed his passenger a better shot.
Allman said authorities believe Miller was using a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and 30-round magazine taken from the Potter Valley home and that he only stopped shooting because the weapon jammed.
The deputy was uninjured. His name has not been released in an effort to keep him safe, Allman said.
One round hit the grille and radiator of the patrol car, disabling the vehicle and allowing the suspects to get away.
Law enforcement from around the region converged on the area to take on the search, including CHP officers, Ukiah and Cloverdale police, nine Sonoma County sheriff's deputies and Santa Rosa police, Allman said. Officers surrounded the area and began checking rural driveways, eventually locating a 1995 Thunderbird parked outside a residence about a mile west of Ukiah.
Dispatchers called the residents and learned they were not aware of the car or its occupants and that they were unharmed. Sheriff's personnel also used a reverse 911-system to alert neighbors that violent men were in the area, Allman said.
The car yielded property reported stolen earlier in the night from a home on Van Arsdale Road in Potter Valley, though three handguns, a rifle and a shotgun, as well as ammunition also taken from the house, were not in the stash and presumed to be with the suspects.
A path from the vehicle appeared to show an escape route into the surrounding woods, authorities said.
Authorities searched the area through the night without success, but Tuesday morning they received a tip that Skaggs had been seen walking on South State Street in Ukiah. Deputies in unmarked cars found him at the intersection with Norgard Lane and apprehended him after a brief foot chase, authorities said. He was not armed.
Skaggs, who was already on probation, had just been released from jail Feb. 13 after posting bond for $125,000 bail and was to have gone to court Tuesday in connection with a Nov. 14 pursuit in which a CHP officer was badly injured, authorities said.
He also was wanted in connection with the Feb. 19 robbery and burglary of an Anderson Valley resident and has 22 separate criminal court cases on his record over the past decade, the District Attorney's Office said.
The heavily tattooed Miller has a criminal history that includes convictions for receipt of stolen property and intimidating a witness, a representative for the State Department of Corrections said.
Allman said he's believed to have ties to a prison gang.
The last of Miller's three arrests for violation of parole in 2012 was in Sonoma County on Dec. 4, authorities said. He was still being sought at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Allman said the department has video footage of the pursuit and shooting taken from a camera installed on the deputy's dashboard and hopes to release the tape later this week.
Anyone with information about Miller's whereabouts is asked to call the sheriff's dispatch at 463-4086 or the sheriff's tip line at 234-2100.
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