Nine days before armed robbery suspect Dawn Elika Center was shot dead by three Mendocino County sheriff’s deputies alongside Highway 101, she delivered a dead skunk to the manager of the Ukiah Walmart.
Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, whose office is leading an investigation into Tuesday’s shooting, declined to provide any information from that inquiry or new details on the circumstances leading up to Center’s death.
But people who encountered Center in her final days have come forward to recount incidents of bizarre and erratic behavior on the part of the 48-year-old Redwood Valley resident. Some have raised questions about whether local law enforcement let that reported behavior escalate until it became dangerous and ultimately, deadly.
In the latest story to emerge, Lynette Guenther, Walmart manager in Ukiah, said Center delivered a dead skunk wrapped in five plastic bags to the store on Feb. 4 along with a hand-written note addressed to Guenther.
The note said “Lynette, with love. Anonymous.”
“I didn’t know who she was or why she targeted me,” Guenther said. “But a sane person doesn’t deliver a dead skunk.”
Guenther said she called the Ukiah police and an officer responded but said delivering a skunk was not a crime so it wasn’t an issue for law enforcement.
“Clearly she was off her rocker but (the police) turned a blind eye and didn’t deal with it,” she said. “This could have been all avoided. How many lives were put in danger?”
Ukiah police Capt. Justin Wyatt said his department did respond to the incident and were still investigating possible crimes. Wyatt was unsure if his department had followed up with Center before she was shot and killed Tuesday.
Delivering a dead skunk “seems like it would be a crime or some kind of violation,” he said, but would not provide further comment because the case has yet to be closed.
On the day she died, Center took a black 2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for a test drive at Thurston Auto Plaza in Ukiah Tuesday morning. Other than driving too fast she acted normal, said general sales manager Trevor Thurston.
But when Center was denied financing she put a handgun to the chest of a salesman about 9:25 a.m. and demanded the keys to the $45,000 sports car, Thurston said.
Center then fled at speeds topping 100 mph on Highway 101 north but crashed into a ditch after law enforcement dropped spike strips in front of her north of Willits, according to Thurston, who was given information not released to the public.
When Center exited the car she confronted deputies and Willits police while holding a handgun and was shot dead, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement the day of the shooting.
The following day the Sheriff’s Office announced that three deputies had fired upon Center. The deputies involved had 30 years, 11 years and four years of service with the agency and have been placed on paid leave.
Since that time the Sheriff’s Office has refused to release any additional information, including the names of the deputies, the number of shots fired or say if Center fired on deputies before she was gunned down on Highway 101 in view of motorists.