A bulletproof vest was credited Wednesday with saving the life of a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was shot in the chest during a furious gun battle with a pair of suspected car thieves armed with a semiautomatic rifle in East Los Angeles.
Investigators searching the 900 block of Record Avenue, where the Tuesday night shooting occurred, found evidence Wednesday that more than 100 rounds were fired in the gun battle with two deputies in the quiet unincorporated neighborhood of Belvedere Gardens. Several cars and patrol cars were hit by gunfire.
Deputy Edward Nordskog said Deputy Frank Dominguez, 39, was struck in the chest and Deputy Sean Vanleeuwen, 32, was hit in the hand and leg by bullet fragments. Vanleeuwen also suffered injuries to his eyes from flying glass, Nordskog said.
Both were rushed to County-USC Medical Center where Dominguez was treated and released. Vanleeuwen was hospitalized and was in stable condition. Authorities said his vision was not threatened.
Within hours of the shootout, deputies conducting a massive search arrested Carlos Sanchez and Ernesto Velasco, both 18-year-old East Los Angeles men, on suspicion of attempted murder.
The incident began when the deputies in two patrol cars began pursuing the two men about 11 p.m. Tuesday in what they determined was a stolen sedan. A few minutes into the chase, the suspects turned onto Record Avenue, which dead-ends in a ravine. The two men jumped from the car and one began firing an assault rifle, said Sgt. Gary Miller.
As the officers returned fire, the suspects fled on foot. Additional deputies arrived, sealed off the area and began a search with a special weapons team, K-9 units and a helicopter crew.
Sanchez was captured about 2 a.m. Wednesday, while Velasco was arrested about 7:45 a.m. at an East Los Angeles residence.
Deputies were relieved that their wounded comrades were not seriously injured.
"Considering the weapon they ran up against, they were really lucky," Nordskog said.
Nearby residents were shocked by the eruption of gunfire in their neighborhood.
"At first there were cars and then gunfire," said Richard Lerma, 35, who lives on Record Avenue. "It seemed like they were firing before they stopped."
On the hill above Record, Jose Cruz, a 28-year-old mechanic, said he gathered his children and ducked for cover in a safe part of the house. "The gunfire was loud, and then the police came searching with dogs," he said. "I was scared."