A California Highway Patrol officer was in stable condition Wednesday after being shot in the face during a foot chase with a suspected motorcycle thief in a remote area near Castaic Lake, authorities said.
Eyeglasses worn by Officer David Zielesch, 31, may have slightly deflected the bullet, which entered his right cheek and then fragmented before it could pierce his skull, officials said.
"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 shortly before midnight Tuesday as he and a partner attempted to capture the suspected thief they had followed from the Golden State Freeway to the remote area off Lake Hughes Road.
After Zielesch was knocked down by the bullet, his partner, Tom Tilman, 32, tackled the suspect and subdued him after a struggle, Officer Ernie Garcia said. During the struggle, the gun, a .22-caliber revolver, was fired again but no one was struck, 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.
The chase began when Zielesch and Tilman, on patrol and heading south on the Golden State Freeway near the Templin Highway, came upon a southbound motorcycle and radioed for a routine check on the license plate number. Garcia said the check identified the motorcycle as stolen from Ventura County. The officers radioed for assistance and continued to follow the motorcycle as it exited 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 man got up and began running through an unlighted area of heavy brush behind the house. The CHP officers got out of their patrol car and chased him.
"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, but we don't have the exact distance."
The shot immediately disabled Zielesch. Moments later, Tilman tackled Bridiga and made the arrest.
Tilman, a three-year CHP veteran, was unhurt. Garcia said Bridiga suffered minor injuries when thrown from the motorcycle and after his arrest was treated in the jail ward of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
Zielesch was taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia where surgeons removed the bullet fragments Wednesday, authorities said.