Mendocino County law enforcement searching for slaying suspect
A Mendocino Coast man remained at large Sunday night, hours after authorities suspect he gunned down his former girlfriend, leaving the woman for dead at a roadside pullout along Highway 1 near Little River, sheriff's officials said.
Autumn Smith, 22, of Fort Bragg, who also goes by the surname Johnson, died from an apparent gunshot wound or wounds, Mendocino County Sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney said.
Possibly armed with a handgun, Andrew Crowningshield, 27, of Little River may have fled the scene in a Ford F-350 long bed, quad-cab diesel pickup with California license plate #70658N1, Mendocino County sheriff's officials said.
“We're requesting anybody that sees him or hears him to let 911 dispatch know - he's considered armed and dangerous,” Barney said.
Smith and Crowningshield have a son, who is preschool age, and had ended their relationship, Barney said. The child was not present during the shooting, reported about 9:10 a.m. Sunday, he said.
Detectives were still investigating what led to the violence. Barney said he was not aware of any recent domestic violence reports related to Smith and Crowningshield.
Shortly before shooting, Smith and Crowningshield were traveling in separate vehicles on Highway 1 and stopped at a pullout south of Little River, Barney said.
“She pulled over and he pulled in behind her,” Barney said. “She got out and he got out.”
They had “some kind of altercation” before Crowningshield is suspected to have shot her with a handgun, before getting back in his pickup and leaving, Barney said.
A witness to at least a portion of the encounter fled the scene to the Heritage House Resort and called 911 about 9:10 a.m. Barney declined to describe the witness' connection to the Smith or Crowningshield.
It was unclear in what direction Crowningshield fled, and law enforcement across the county searched for the distinctive lifted pickup, described as white or teal with running lights on the cab and a spotlight on the rear bumper. They issued “be on the lookout” notices to law enforcement in nearby counties.
At one point, a tip led authorities to suspect he had fled from the coast on Comptche Ukiah Road, but Crowningshield was not found. Part of a Mendocino Coast family, Crowningshield knows the area well, Barney said.
Albion Little River Fire Protection District Chief Ted Williams, who was the first fire personnel to respond to the scene Sunday, said Crowningshield worked as a firefighter in his district for a short stint about three or four years ago. He said Crowningshield more recently worked in construction.
“He always seemed like a good kid, we're surprised and saddened,” to learn he's a suspect in the shooting, Williams said.
An autopsy is scheduled to take place this week, Barney said.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.