Armed robbery suspect fatally shot on Highway 101 in Mendocino County identified

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Dawn Elika Center was denied financing when she attempted to buy a $45,000 sports car from a Ukiah auto dealer, so she decided to pull out a gun and take the car by force.

Not long after, the 48-year-old Redwood Valley woman lay dead on the side of Highway 101, shot by three Mendocino County sheriff’s deputies.

Law enforcement and witness accounts of the last moments of her life emerged Wednesday, one day after Center led deputies and Willits police officers on a high-speed chase that ended with her death and closed Highway 101 for much of the day.

The events began unfolding Tuesday morning when Center walked into Thurston Auto Plaza in Ukiah and asked to take a black 580-horsepower 2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for a test drive, general sales manager Trevor Thurston said.

Center, who was dropped off at the dealership, didn’t initially act suspiciously and did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Thurston said.

“Dawn came in and test drove the vehicle,” he said. “She drove a little too fast so the salesperson had to ask her to slow down, but she seemed pretty normal.”

Center said she wanted to buy the car but didn’t qualify for financing, Thurston said. She then said she would get a co-signer but first wanted to hear the engine roar another time.

The salesman walked back to the car outside with Center, who pulled a gun on him and demanded the keys, Thurston said. The salesman handed them over and ran inside to call 911.

She drove off around 9:25 a.m., heading north on Highway 101 at high speed, authorities said. A deputy spotted the car south of Willits and began pursuit, soon joined by deputies and Willits police officers in a chase with speeds exceeding 100 mph. The model of the stolen Camaro has a top speed of 184 mph, according to Chevrolet.

Center crashed into a ditch full of blackberry bushes after law enforcement laid spike strips on the highway, Thurston said. Three deputies fired at Center when she confronted them with a handgun, the Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

The Sheriff’s Office did not release the names of the deputies but said they have 30 years, 11 years and four years of service with the agency. All have been placed on paid leave during the investigation.

The number of shots fired and the number of times Center was struck has also not been released. The District Attorney’s Office is investigating the shooting. District Attorney David Eyster and spokesman Mike Geniella were not available for comment.

Sheriff Tom Allman said in a Facebook post Tuesday that the deputies “protected innocent motorists who were witnessing a very dangerous, and ultimately deadly, situation.”

Highway 101 was closed in both directions for most of the day to preserve evidence, the Sheriff’s Office said. The Camaro was towed back to the dealership later in the day and is likely totaled, Thurston said.

“Everyone was in shock and disbelief that this happened in Ukiah,” Thurston said. “It’s a freak thing. Twenty-seven years in business and it’s never happened before.”

The shooting Tuesday was the second time in two months Mendocino County sheriff’s deputies have shot and killed a woman in an armed confrontation. A 23-year-old Las Vegas mother of two, Mary Mantynen, was shot dead in her Ukiah motel room Dec. 21 after an armed standoff with law enforcement involving her husband, Joseph Mantynen.

Editor’s note: A 2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has 580 horsepower. This article has been updated to correct for a previous misstatement of fact.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or

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