A California Highway Patrol officer was in stable condition Wednesday after being shot in the face in a remote area near Castaic Lake while chasing a man suspected of stealing a motorcycle.
Eyeglasses worn by Officer David Zielesch, 31, may have slightly deflected the bullet, which entered his right cheek and fragmented before it could pierce his skull.
"It was also a small-caliber bullet, and it was fired from some distance away, which might explain the fragmenting," Officer Jill Angel said.
Zielesch, a four-year CHP veteran, was shot just before midnight Tuesday as he and a partner attempted to capture the suspect off Lake Hughes Road, police said.
After the bullet hit Zielesch, his partner, Officer Tom Tilman, 32, tackled the suspect and subdued him, Officer Ernie Garcia said. In the struggle, the gun, a .22-caliber revolver, fired again, but no one was hit, Garcia said.
The suspect, identified as Steven C. Bridiga, 19, of Thousand Oaks, was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon against a peace officer, Garcia said.
Check Shows Machine Stolen
The chase began when Zielesch and Tilman, heading south on the Golden State Freeway near Templin Highway, radioed to check on the license plate of a motorcycle. Garcia said the check showed the machine to be stolen from Ventura County. The officers radioed for assistance, Garcia said, and followed the motorcycle as it left the freeway at Lake Hughes Road.
"The suspect did not accelerate, but he attempted to evade the officers by riding on and off the roadway," Garcia said. "He went into a truck stop and immediately left. He cut down a dead-end road and circled around a house. But, behind the house, he struck a log and fell from the motorcycle."
The suspect got up and ran through unlighted brush behind the house, Garcia said, with the CHP officers in pursuit.
"During the foot pursuit, the suspect turned suddenly and fired one round," Angel said. "It was not point-blank range. They were some distance apart . . . . "
The shot disabled Zielesch. Moments later, Tilman tackled Bridiga and made the arrest, Garcia said. Tilman, a three-year CHP veteran, was unhurt. Garcia said Bridiga suffered minor injuries when thrown from the motorcycle and was treated in the jail ward of County-USC Medical Center.
Zielesch was taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where surgeons removed the bullet fragments Wednesday, authorities said.