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Authorities encounter Bassler in woods

  • Joe Hernandez and his bloodhound Willow of the Pomona Police Department stand guard at Northspur on the Skunk Train tracks between Willits and Fort Bragg, Thursday Sept. 29, 2011 after a gun battle between Aaron Bassler and law enforcement. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2010

FORT BRAGG — Three deputies aiding in a search through the thick and untamed forest east of Fort Bragg came under fire just before noon Thursday by a man they identified as Aaron Bassler, the suspect sought by deputies in two North Coast shooting deaths.

The men saw Bassler, 35, who fired from about 100 meters away and disappeared as they shot back, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said at an evening news conference.

The men were fired upon again moments later by an unseen shooter, presumably Bassler, who they believed was trying to flank them, Allman said. They shot back, but the man did not appear or shoot again, he said.

Shootout In Search For Aaron Bassler

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"We are somewhat hampered in the immediate search not only because of the dense brush, also because he's shooting at them with a rifle," Allman said.

The men fired 10 shots at Bassler, but he slipped back into the forest where he's been hiding since Aug. 27, when a gunman used a similar flanking technique to shoot and kill Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo, Allman said.

None of the deputies was injured. It wasn't clear whether Bassler was struck, he said.

"We were very lucky that this situation was as it was and no one was injured," Allman said.

The shooting was the second encounter with Bassler, who has remained at large since he was identified as a suspect in Melo's killing. Bassler is also suspected in the shooting death of Albion resident Matthew Coleman, who was found dead Aug. 11 on a ranch north of Westport.

Following the exchange of gunfire Thursday, a half-dozen law enforcement officers stood guard along Highway 20, 10miles west of Willits, where the road overlooks the vast swath of forest that has been the focus of the search for Bassler.

An ambulance stood by the entrance to Irmulco Road on Highway 20, six miles west of Willits, which winds down into the Noyo River drainage and Bassler's home territory.


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