A veteran Mendocino County sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot north of Fort Bragg on Wednesday, escalating a massive manhunt for the suspected gunman, who was killed in a shootout with a police officer. The incident closed Highway 1 for hours and put schools and residents on alert.

Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino, 48, of Fort Bragg died after confronting the suspect on a dirt road in the town of Cleone near MacKerricher State Park, about three miles north of Fort Bragg.

The gunman, identified as Ricardo Antonio Chaney, 32, of Eugene, Ore., opened fire on Del Fiorentino sometime before 11:51 a.m. with an assault rifle while the deputy was still in his patrol car, sheriff’s officials said.

Officials did not say whether the deputy returned fire.

Del Fiorentino, who had a combined 26 years with the Sheriff’s Office and Fort Bragg Police Department, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Chaney was found dead nearby a short while later after a second confrontation and gunbattle with a Fort Bragg police lieutenant who heard the initial gunfire and responded to the area.

Officials initially said Chaney, who suffered at least one gunshot wound, appeared to have taken his own life. Late Wednesday, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said, “Our current investigation shows that it was not suicide — that he was killed when Lt. (John) Naulty fired at him.” The sheriff did not provide further details.

Earlier in the evening, a somber and emotional Allman praised Del Fiorentino at a news conference as “a very brave man.”

It was the first fatal shooting of a Mendocino County deputy since April 1995, when Deputy Bob Davis was killed in a shootout in Covelo. Allman said there have been just five fatal shootings of deputies in the county since 1850.

For some, the large law enforcement presence initially brought back memories of the five-week manhunt for Aaron Bassler, the 35-year-old man who in 2011 fatally ambushed two well-known North Coast men, including Jere Melo, Fort Bragg’s former mayor.

“Early on, I thought, ‘Oh, God, not again,’” said Dave Turner, Fort Bragg’s current mayor.

Allman said the encounter Wednesday with Chaney happened about 10 hours after the slaying suspect stole a black BMW at gunpoint 400 miles to the north in Eugene and forced its two occupants into the trunk.

The occupants had not been located by local law enforcement Wednesday night. Allman speculated that they had escaped or been freed, but he did not provide additional details on their whereabouts.

At 10:34 a.m., Allman said, the Sheriff’s Office received a call after a local business owner fired shots at the suspect at Confusion Hill, a tourist attraction along Highway 101 north of Leggett.

John Mills, 55, who has owned the attraction since 2005, said Chaney was urinating within the fenced park area outside.

Mills went out and told the man his behavior was not acceptable.

“I told him to leave, and he was cursing me out,” he said.

Chaney started to drive away, but then he turned around, came back uphill and parked about 30 feet from the entrance.

Mills said he saw Chaney exit the car with a shotgun and knew he had to move fast.

“I couldn’t get to my gun, so I grabbed my baton,” he said.

Mills armed himself with a club-like item and hid behind the front door so that when Chaney came through the entrance, Mills was able to hit the shotgun, causing it to fire and fall to the floor.

Mills ducked back behind the door and Chaney, apparently picking up the gun, fired again through the door, spattering a fountain soda machine in the attached snack bar with gunshot and shattering a window, Mills said.

“I was pissed,” he said. “I wanted his head on a pike.”

As Chaney fled to his car and began driving away, Mills retrieved a handgun from near his cash register and fired a single shot after the car.

Chaney fled the scene and was spotted by sheriff’s deputies on Highway 1 at 11:38 a.m. He led deputies on a chase at speeds that exceeded 100 mph, eventually eluding law enforcement.

The ensuing manhunt included law enforcement from throughout Mendocino County, including police and CHP officers, state parks rangers and state firefighters.

Personnel from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, including the department’s helicopter, also were called in to assist.

MacKerricher State Park was evacuated and law enforcement officials closed Highway 1 at Inglenook for a nearly 4-mile stretch to Odom Lane north of Fort Bragg. Automated emergency notification phone calls were sent out to residents advising them to stay away from the area.

Local school officials also implemented precautionary measures, keeping students who lived in the Cleone area on campus after hours.

Del Fiorentino found Chaney’s vehicle on a narrow, paved road just up from the Cleone Market. He came face-to-face with Chaney’s vehicle and Chaney opened fire on Del Fiorentino’s car with an AK-47-style assault rifle, spraying it with bullets, Allman said.

Naulty, the Fort Bragg police lieutenant, who was searching in the area, heard the gunfire and arrived on the scene to find Chaney looking through Del Fiorentino’s car.

Naulty engaged in a brief gunbattle with Chaney, who fled into some nearby bushes. Naulty found Chaney dead in the bushes.

Road and park closures and other precautionary measures were lifted after reports of a second suspect turned out to be unfounded.

News of Del Fiorentino’s death spread quickly around town and on social media.

Many, it seems, knew the deputy, a father of three adult children, stepfather to a 6-year-old girl, and wrestling coach.

“Not Ricky!” said local resident Bruce Ricketts, as he heard the news while sitting at Starbucks in Fort Bragg.

At the press conference Wednesday evening at the Fort Bragg Police Department, a photograph of Del Fiorentino and two vases of flowers were displayed on a nearby counter.

“I wish I wasn’t here,” Allman said, flanked by other law enforcement leaders and standing before a packed room of media, city and county officials.

Allman said processing of the shooting scene wouldn’t be completed until today.

Nearby, 30 to 40 law enforcement officials from multiple agencies remained at work. Some stood in groups talking among themselves and eating dinner on the go.

“We lost a great guy. A great man,” said Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputy Joey Demarco.

Staff Writers Mary Callahan and Jamie Hansen contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 472-7573 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.