Pursuit Suspect Gunned Down by Cops in a Helicopter

Pursuit Suspect Gunned Down by Cops in a Helicopter
File photo by Guy Incogneato/Flickr

UPDATE at 6 p.m., Friday, Sept. 18, 2015: The suspect was wanted for an alleged home invasion. See more details below, including information about the Los Angeles Police Department's training on helicopter-based deadly force.

A carjacking suspect* who led authorities on an hour-long-plus vehicle pursuit in the Inland Empire today was fatally shot by at least one deputy who was positioned on a helicopter above the fray, San Bernardino Sheriff's Department officials said.

It happened about 1:10 p.m. on the northbound 215 freeway at Little League Drive in San Bernardino, according to cops and California Highway Patrol traffic data.

Deputy Deon Filer told us San Bernardino deputies started chasing a carjacking suspect about noon today.

The driver allegedly went the wrong way on a freeway, heading south on the northbound 215, and the vehicle he was in side-swiped another, prompting at least one deputy on a pursuing helicopter above to open fire, he said.

The suspect was dead at the scene, Filer said.

He said the San Bernardino department is the only county law enforcement agency in the nation that trains deputies to be able to open fire from airborne helicopters.

"This is the only county in the nation that shoots from helicopters," he said. "We train for it."

The driver's ID was not immediately known.

A northbound section of the freeway near Little League Drive was shut down as investigators comb through the scene. The CHP declared a SigAlert for the area shortly after 1:30 p.m.

It appears that ABC Eyewitness News, which has published a helicopter-based image of two vehicles apparently involved in the side-swipe collision, first broke the news of the unusual shooting.

*UPDATE at 6 p.m., Friday, Sept. 18, 2015: Sheriff's officials now say the suspect was wanted for an alleged home invasion robbery (and not for an alleged carjacking).

At times the pursuit was running at more than 100 miles per hour, said Deputy Zach Beckum.

At least one deputy aboard a helicopter opened fire, he said. "The officer-involved shooting occurred while he [the suspect] was still in the vehicle," he said.

That apparently happened before the wrong-way vehicle being chased crashed head-on into another vehicle on the freeway, the deputy said.

Three people in that vehicle were injured, Beckum said. They were hospitalized in unknown condition.

After the shooting, and apparently after the collision, the suspect "exited the vehicle and took a few steps," but he died at the scene, he said.

Beckum reiterated the department's belief that it's one of the only if not the only county-based police agencies in the United States that will shoot from a helicopter in special circumstances.

Former Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Greg Meyer, an expert in police tactics, says that the LAPD also trains to shoot from helicopters but that it rarely if ever has done so.

In fact he says he witnessed the department demonstrate helicopter-based weapons training downtown during the 2004 International Association of the Chiefs of Police Convention here.

But, Meyer said, "I cannot think of an incident" in which the LAPD opened fire from an air unit.

"I think it's rare because the circumstances where it might be an appropriate tactic are relatively rare," he told us. "In most cases, ground officers are able to control the situation."

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