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California and the West : Alleged Rock Thrower Slain by Border Patrol Agent : Violence: Shooting occurs in eastern San Diego County. Suspect had been tracked for an hour after hurling stones at several people, officials say.

September 01, 1999|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed a man Tuesday morning during an alleged rock-throwing incident in eastern San Diego County, authorities said.

The shooting occurred near a reservoir in the rugged Cleveland National Forest about an hour after the man allegedly first hurled stones at a water district caretaker and a Border Patrol agent.

Another agent, one of four who tracked the man's footprints for more than a mile over rugged terrain, opened fire after he also was pelted with rocks, said Border Patrol spokesman Roy Villareal.

Border officials said the agent fired two or three times but did not say how close he was to the victim.

The identity of the dead man, who was barefoot and apparently alone, was not immediately known. The Mexican Consulate in San Diego was trying to determine if he was a Mexican national.

The remote spot where the shooting occurred is about 30 miles east of downtown San Diego and about 14 miles north of the border. The area, frequently traversed by migrants entering illegally from Mexico, is near where eight migrants perished and dozens of others were rescued last April after they were overtaken by a freak snowstorm.

Tuesday's incident was the first fatal shooting by a Border Patrol agent in San Diego since two migrants were killed in back-to-back confrontations nearly a year ago. In both those cases, agents said the immigrants wielded rocks; both agents were cleared of wrongdoing. Agents who patrol the international border say rocks are routinely hurled at them by would-be crossers.

The latest incident began about 6:30 a.m., when the caretaker employed by Sweetwater Authority, a regional water district, radioed for assistance after being pelted by "softball-sized" rocks, Villareal said. A Border Patrol agent who was the first to show up also came under assault, Villareal said. The alleged attacker chased the agent on foot while repeatedly throwing rocks, ignoring commands in English and Spanish to stop, officials said. The agent was not hit, but a rear window of his Ford Expedition was smashed as he sought cover behind the patrol vehicle.

The caretaker was struck in the back by a rock but suffered only bruises, officials said.

The alleged rock thrower fled on a canyon trail toward Loveland Reservoir.

Four other Border Patrol agents tracked the alleged assailant for nearly an hour. One who caught up with him was hit in the chest with a rock, authorities said. That agent fired after the man picked up another rock "and was about to hit him again," said Border Patrol spokeswoman Gloria Chavez.

"This agent feared for his life and he did the best he could do to save it," Chavez said. "It's very tragic that a life was lost."

That agent, whose name was not released, was taken to a San Diego hospital, also suffering symptoms of dehydration, Chavez said. Under Border Patrol policy, the agent is to be placed on leave while investigators from the FBI and Sheriff's Department look into the shooting.

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