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Authorities believe the man who gunned down a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy Wednesday left a 450-mile trail of violence and death that stretched from Eugene, Ore., to the small California harbor town of Fort Bragg.

As a fuller picture began to emerge Thursday of the scope of the crime spree, honors flowed in for Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino, who died in a spray of gunfire from an assault-style rifle just outside the town where he had served for 26 years.

Gov. Jerry Brown ordered Capitol flags to be flown at half staff, the Legislature convened in his memory and officials around the state and colleagues continued to offer testimonials.

"Ricky was a great guy. You never knew if he had a bad day because he was always smiling, always happy. . . . Not only a good cop, but a good person," said Sheriff's Capt. Greg Van Patten.

The carnage began in Eugene, where authorities said Thursday that Ricardo Antonio Chaney, 32, is the suspect in the death of George Bundy Wasson, 79, whose body was found early Wednesday in the charred remains of his home near the University of Oregon. It marked the beginning of what authorities say was a 12-hour spree.

Wasson had been a professor in the school's Ethnic Studies Department, a former dean of students and a tribal elder with the Coquille tribe in North Bend, Ore., said Gordon Beetles, who is the Native American initiative director for the university.

Chaney was acquainted with family members of Wasson, whose home was deliberately set on fire, police said.

Public Information Director Melinda McLaughlin would not say what, if any evidence, tied Chaney to the 12:36 a.m. shooting and fire beyond his acquaintance with Wasson's family, but a police lieutenant told the Eugene Register-Guard that Chaney once had lived not far from Wasson.

Just 36 minutes after Wasson's body was found, authorities said, Chaney carjacked two men in Eugene, launching a flight south into California that ended about nine hours later when he shot and killed Del Fiorentino and was then killed in a shootout with a Fort Bragg police lieutenant.

The carjacking began when a masked man confronted two Eugene men at 1:12 a.m. and forced them at gunpoint into their car's trunk, Eugene police said.

The men, both in their 20s, escaped while the car was still parked by pulling the trunk escape latch. They quickly provided the information that launched a manhunt.

Police issued a be-on-the-lookout bulletin at 1:33 a.m. with a description of the black, 2006 BMW 330i that reached Mendocino County, but it was a third violent confrontation that mobilized local law enforcement agencies.

About 10:30 a.m., a man believed to be Chaney and driving a black car with darkly tinted windows turned off Highway 101 into a 1950s-era roadside attraction known as Confusion Hill, between Piercy and Leggett in northern Mendocino County. Soon, he was in a dispute with business manager John Mills, who ordered him to leave.

The man did so, but soon returned with a shotgun. During a confrontation in the gift shop, the man fired once at Mills, the round passing through a window in the door, then ricocheting off the metal casing of a soda dispenser, then going out through another window.

"Missed me by about 6 inches as it went out the back window," Mills said.

Chaney then ran to his car and fled, though Mills got one round off with his own handgun before calling 911.

Mills' call mobilized Mendocino County law enforcement officials, who then assessed the fugitive's potential routes.

Van Patten, the sheriff's captain, said he headed up Highway 101 toward Confusion Hill hoping to cross paths with the suspect. CHP officers meantime checked 101 to the north.

When Chaney was not spotted, deputies concluded he likely had left the inland route at Leggett and headed toward the coast on Highway 1. If so, he was headed directly toward two coastal deputies -- Del Fiorentino and Lt. Greg Stefani -- who were northbound from Fort Bragg, 43 miles south of Leggett.

Del Fiorentino was in the lead, some distance ahead of Stefani, when he radioed back that a black BMW had just sped past him, Van Patten said.

Stefani pulled to the shoulder and waited. The car passed him at 11:38 a.m., prompting him to turn and pursue the BMW, which hit 100 mph even without Stefani activating his lights and siren, Van Patten said.

In Fort Bragg, police set up a spike strip on Highway 1 just north of the city limits. Stefani, meanwhile, lost sight of the BMW on a blind curve about 3.5 miles north of Fort Bragg, Van Patten said.

When he and Del Fiorentino reached the waiting Fort Bragg police, they were told that Chaney had not come through, prompting the deputies and others to head back north and begin searching side roads.

In the wooded enclave of Cleone just north of town, Del Fiorentino took Ward Avenue west off Highway 1, and turned onto Park Drive, a narrow, horseshoe-shaped lane where he encountered Chaney head-on.

Chaney had come in the other way and was stopped about 20 feet away, Van Patten said. The man got out of his car and opened fire on Del Fiorentino before the deputy could fire or radio to his colleagues, Sheriff Tom Allman said.

Allman called it "a simple ambush."

"Ricky came upon him and didn't have an opportunity to react," Van Patten said. "Obviously, the suspect did."

The barrage from Chaney's assault-style rifle riddled Del Fiorentino's patrol car, shattered the front and rear windows and left the veteran law enforcement officer dead, Van Patten said.

Hearing gunfire, Fort Bragg Police Lt. John Naulty was first to arrive, driving up behind Del Fiorentino's car. Chaney by then apparently had gotten the deputy's sidearm free from its holster, as it was found on the ground near his car, authorities said.

Naulty opened fire, engaging in a brief shootout in which many rounds were exchanged.

During the gunfire, Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry pulled up behind Naulty's car in time for the lieutenant to retreat and use it as a shelter, Van Patten said

Chaney fled into roadside scrub brush that, while not thick, permitted him to hide well enough that it was unclear if he had escaped or not.

At about that time a handyman working outside a home nearby ran from the shooting, causing authorities to believe there were two suspects on the loose, Van Patten said. That man was later found hiding in a pumphouse not far from the shooting scene.

Authorities retreated and set up a perimeter as they awaited additional backup that came from neighboring agencies.

When the Mendocino County SWAT team was assembled and the perimeter was secure enough, its members entered the area and found Chaney's body. He had been shot several times, and his rifle was across his chest, Van Patten said.

Initial reports that he might have taken his own life appear to be incorrect, though Van Patten said any conclusion would depend on results of an autopsy to be conducted today.

An autopsy also was scheduled today for Del Fiorentino, a 26-year veteran of the sheriff's and Fort Bragg police departments.

Police personnel with flashing lights escorted the slain deputy's body inland to Ukiah in the dark hours of Thursday morning and were planning a memorial service in Fort Bragg, though no date had yet been set.

Authorities said many in the department were struggling with Del Fiorentino's death but moving forward with what needed to be done.

Among the handful of regulars assigned to the coast, their ranks depleted in recent years by budget cuts, it would be especially hard going, Van Patten said.

"They're a real small, close-knit group of people," he said.

Naulty has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is routine in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting, police said.

The shooting is being investigated by the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office with assistance from a CHP critical incident investigation team, authorities said.

(Staff Writer Jamie Hansen contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.)

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