MEINERS OAKS — A Ventura County sheriff's deputy was shot to death and another man wounded Wednesday evening in an otherwise quiet, shady neighborhood in this Ojai Valley community as the officer tried to quell a domestic quarrel.
Officials said Deputy Peter John Aguirre, 26, had gone to a house on North Encinal Avenue after a 911 call from a neighbor reporting that a man there was holding a woman hostage.
Details of the shooting were sketchy, but deputies gave this account:
The two squad cars on duty in the area bracketed the house--one in front, and one in back--in the rural community of about 3,000 residents. As the deputies arrived, a woman ran out of the house and Aguirre went inside, deputies said.
Shots then rang out, deputies said. They identified the alleged shooter as Michael Raymond Johnson, 48.
Aguirre's partner, whom officials did not identify, then followed inside and fired a shotgun, wounding Johnson. But Aguirre had already been felled by a gunshot wound to the face, Ventura County Sheriff Larry Carpenter said.
Aguirre, who recently moved to Saticoy with his wife and 3-year-old daughter, was initially rushed to Ojai Community Hospital, then airlifted via helicopter to Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura moments later.
When he arrived at the medical center, hospital personnel began emergency efforts but were unsuccessful. Officials said Aguirre had been shot several times in the upper torso and head. Officials pronounced him dead at 6:36 p.m.
Shortly after 10 p.m., small processions of Aguirre's family members holding hands and clutching each other for support made their way out of the emergency room escorted by sheriff's deputies and police.
Johnson was initially taken to Ojai Community Hospital. Several hours later he was transported by ambulance under heavy guard to Ventura County Medical Center, where he arrived at 9:43 p.m., Sheriff's Lt. Bruce Hansen said. Johnson was listed in stable condition with a single gunshot wound to the chest.
"We think he's going to pull through and he will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." Carpenter said.
Top sheriff's officials and prosecutors rushed to the scene as word of the shooting spread. A somber Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury spent more than an hour talking with officials.
Investigators waited to obtain a search warrant before they could enter the house.
Neighbors milled around the tree-lined street as investigators looked over the exterior of the well-kept house.
The Ventura County Fire Department set up high-powered floodlights, and deputies videotaped the front of the house and began placing evidence tags on the ground.
Carpenter said he knew Aguirre personally.
Aguirre had studied for six years in college and planned to become a schoolteacher, but recently switched to law enforcement studies, Carpenter said. He had been with the department for two years and on patrol for about 10 months.
"This was a really, really good kid," Carpenter said.
Carpenter recalled that the last Ventura County sheriff's deputy to die in a shooting was Don Hainey in 1970. Hainey was shot while chasing a suspect on foot during a narcotics investigation.
A frustrated Carpenter said, "We try to prevent this type of thing from happening, but these things we can't control. In the 30 years that I've been in the Sheriff's Department, I haven't figured out a way to totally prevent this from happening."
Aguirre is the fourth Ventura County law enforcement officer in less than three years to lose his life in the line of duty.
Oxnard Police Officer James R. Jensen Jr., 30, was accidentally shot to death March 13 by a fellow officer, Sgt. Dan Christian, during a botched drug raid. Jensen's widow this week notified Oxnard city officials that she intends to sue over the shooting. Her lawyer says the department and Christian were at fault.
In 1995, Simi Valley Police Officer Michael F. Clark, 28, was killed when he and a partner were investigating a report of a man threatening suicide. Daniel Allen Tuffree is now being tried for murder in Clark's death. A jury is expected to begin hearing testimony in that case next week.
James E. O'Brien, 35, was killed in 1993 when the Oxnard police officer was exchanging shots with a gunman who had killed three people and wounded four others at an unemployment office. The gunman was killed a short time later by another police officer.
Aguirre is the first Ventura County deputy to lose his life in the line of duty since 1975, when Sgt. Thomas K. Collins died in a helicopter crash.
Staff writers Mack Reed and Fred Alvarez contributed to this story.
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Police Deaths in Line of Duty
Ventura County peace officers
July 17, 1996: Deputy Peter John Aguirre, 26, Ventura County Sheriff's Department, was shot while responding to a domestic disturbance in Meiners Oaks.
March 13, 1996: Officer James R. Jensen Jr., 30, Oxnard police, accidentally shot by a fellow officer during a drug raid.