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Man Dies in South Bay Shootout

Redondo Beach, Torrance schools are locked down after two suspects in shooting elude police. One man remains at large.

January 08, 2004|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

A shootout between a police officer and two men in Redondo Beach on Wednesday morning led to a daylong, house-to-house search for the men by more than 100 armed officers, the lockdown of all schools in the city and, 10 hours later, the fatal shooting of one suspect in Torrance.

The ordeal began at 8 a.m. when police received a call about the "suspicious behavior" of two men in the 400 block of North Gertruda Avenue, said Redondo Beach police Sgt. Phil Keenan. An officer "confronted them and began talking," Keenan said. "Then one of the suspects pulled out a gun and began firing at point-blank range. Our officer returned fire."

Resident Jean Metcalf said she was about to take her children to school when she "heard two shots, then a bunch of yelling and screaming, and then about two seconds later I heard about 10 shots."

The 26-year-old officer wasn't hit, although a bullet may have glanced off his bulletproof vest, Keenan said. The men, also apparently uninjured, fled -- one on foot and the other in a silver sport utility vehicle.

A short while later, police received a report of an attempted carjacking about a mile away at 190th Street and Meyer Lane.

"The man was trying to carjack a woman and tried to have her drive, but she fled," Keenan said. "The man also fled on foot and tried to get into some homes in the neighborhood."

Officers cordoned off a nine-square-block area around Gertruda Avenue, and residents had to be escorted to and from their homes.

Police later learned that the suspected shooter had fled to the Cuesta mobile home park at 2345 190th St., Keenan said.

"We were searching the area with canine units, but it turns out he was in one of the mobile homes holding a hostage for hours," Keenan said. The gunman eventually left, taking the man's pickup truck.

By midmorning, police had identified the alleged shooter as Matthew Bickel, 26, and the other man as Ronald Schlagel, 50, both of Redondo Beach. Bickel was on parole for the sale of narcotics and had been arrested more than a year ago on suspicion of auto theft, authorities said.

The Redondo Beach Unified School District ordered a lockdown of all of its 19 campuses, from preschools to an adult school. Students already at school were not allowed to go outside and those arriving late were screened before they were allowed in, said Assistant Supt. Bob Paulson.

"Normally, we would close the schools close to the incident, but as the search for the suspects broadened we decided to err on the side of caution and closed all of our schools," he said.

Two schools in Torrance, Towers Elementary and Lynn Middle, also were locked down for hours, authorities said.

At some point, Redondo Beach police alerted Torrance officers to watch a residence near 190th Street and Prairie Avenue, where Bickel was believed to have been heading.

"We don't know if it was family or a friend's home, but we thought he might go there," said Keenan, who gave an account of the pursuit. At about 6 p.m., Torrance police officers spotted the stolen pickup going south on Prairie near 182nd Street. Police tried to pull the driver over, but he sped away, only to be trapped in traffic at 190th Street.

There, Bickel stepped out of the pickup and fired a gun at police. The officers shot him. Bickel died at a hospital at 7:40 p.m., police said.

"He was dangerous," said Redondo Beach police Lt. Patrick Shortall. "He got involved in two shootouts in one day with the police. The good part was no officers were hurt."

Schlagel remained at large. He is described as Caucasian, 5 feet 7, 155 pounds, with blond hair, blue eyes and a beard.

A neighbor said Bickel and Schlagel lived together near the scene of the first shooting. Ryan Beachkofski, who said he lives two doors from Schlagel and Bickel on North Gertruda Avenue, said he arrived home about 4 p.m. to find scores of police officers on the street and crime-scene tape.

"I was escorted to my house by a team of no less than 10 SWAT guys and two dogs," Beachkofski said. "They went in and did a full search of my house before they were sure it was safe to go back in."

Beachkofski said he was familiar with the suspects.

"Let me put it this way: You wake up at 6 in the morning to go to work, and they're up breaking bottles in front of your yard," Beachkofski said. "It just didn't fit the description of the neighborhood."

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