Cornered in a Sunset Boulevard motel and vowing that he would not be taken alive, the man suspected of slaying Los Angeles Police Officer Charles D. Heim was shot to death by police Sunday afternoon, ending an intensive Sylmar-to-San Pedro search by Heim's fellow officers.
After a three-hour standoff that shut down an east Hollywood neighborhood, reputed gang member Manuel Vargas Perez, 26, was fatally wounded shortly before 1 p.m. by a single rifle bullet fired by one of Heim's LAPD Metro Division colleagues as the suspect brandished a handgun in the doorway of a room at the Lucky 7 Motor Inn, officials said.
The standoff began about 9:30 a.m. when officers acting on a tip converged on the motel. In more than two hours of telephone conversations with LAPD negotiators, Perez defiantly refused to surrender, police said. Shortly after the first conversation, at about 10:45 a.m., Perez reportedly fired at least two shots at police officers and retreated into the room.
Police said they were satisfied Sunday that the manhunt had ended without Perez harming other officers or taking any hostages. "It brings it to an end, but it doesn't lessen the hurt. We still lost Chuck," said LAPD spokesman Officer Art Holmes, referring to Heim's murder.
The two-story beige motel where Perez was killed is only four blocks east of the Dunes Sunset Motel, where he allegedly gunned down Heim and wounded his partner, Officer Felix F. Pena, 35, on Friday night as they went to Perez's room looking for evidence of drug dealing.
After the Friday gun battle with officers, Perez jumped from a second-story bathroom window at the Dunes and escaped as police closed in on the motel. But he apparently stayed in the East Hollywood neighborhood during a citywide search for him by officers in all 18 LAPD divisions, who were supplied with his photo and record during roll call Sunday morning.
Perez was reported to be a member of a Westside "set" of White Fence, one of the oldest street gangs in Los Angeles, and was known on the streets as "White Dude" because of his light skin.
A police spokesman said Perez had a lengthy arrest record, including juvenile offenses and adult arrests for carrying a concealed weapon, burglary and battery. He served short jail terms for some of the adult offenses. His longest sentence was 180 days for tampering with a vehicle.
Over the weekend, with police following up scores of telephone tips on Perez's whereabouts, the suspect apparently was never far from the murder scene.
Acting Sunday morning on a tip that Perez was in a first-floor room of the Lucky 7, police staked out the motel. A woman whom police declined to identify was in the room with Perez and surrendered to officers without incident.
Around 10:45 a.m., Perez opened the door and fired at least two shots at six uniformed officers standing in the parking lot, but hit none of them, police said. An officer fired a single shotgun round and Perez retreated into the ground-floor room, Chief Willie L. Williams said during a news conference at Parker Center in Downtown Los Angeles.
Over the next two hours, Perez became increasingly agitated, reportedly telling police negotiators that he would kill more officers and commit suicide rather than surrender.
"It was not the most lucid of conversations," Williams told reporters.
At one point during the standoff, Perez yelled out that he had "'nothing to lose and will kill any police officer he sees,"' LAPD Capt. Bruce Hagerty said as he stood outside the motel before Perez was shot. "He made it very clear that he did not intend to come out."
After Perez's first volley of shots, police brought in a virtual army of officers and equipment for a possible storming of the motel room. Police helicopters buzzed overhead. Authorities cordoned off an six-square-block section of the Hollywood neighborhood--a mixture of seedy motels with a reputation for prostitution and drug trade, and congenial residential side streets where many immigrants from Latin America and Armenia have settled.
Sriwong Ayasit, editor and publisher of a local Thai weekly newspaper, was breakfasting in the Thai restaurant attached to the U-shaped motel when Perez first fired. "We started to get scared when the police came. We knew it was serious," she said. Police ordered her and the dozen or so other restaurant patrons and employees to run to safety two at a time.
According to Chief Williams, Perez again opened the motel room door at about 12:50 p.m. and walked outside with a .380 semiautomatic pistol in his hand.
Believing that Perez was "about to make good on his threat to kill officers," officer Greg Horton, 44, a 22-year department veteran--and, like Heim, a member of the Metro Division--fired a single round from his high-powered rifle at Perez, the chief said. The suspect fell back into the room.