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Dorner manhunt: Investigators work to ID charred human remains

February 13, 2013|By Andrew Blankstein and Phil Willon

After what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck called "a bittersweet night," investigators Wednesday were in the process of identifying the human remains found in the charred cabin where fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner was believed to have been holed up after trading gunfire with officers, authorities said.

If the body is identified as Dorner’s, the standoff would end a weeklong manhunt for the ex-LAPD officer and Navy Reserve lieutenant suspected in a string of shootings following his firing by the Los Angeles Police Department several years ago. Four people have died in the case, allegedly at Dorner’s hands.

Beck said he would not consider the manhunt over until the body was identified as Dorner. Police remained on tactical alert and were conducting themselves as if nothing had changed in the case, officials said.

PHOTOS: Manhunt for ex-LAPD officer

The latest burst of gunfire came Tuesday after the suspect, attempting to flee law enforcement officials, fatally shot a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy and seriously injured another, officials said. He then barricaded himself in a wooden cabin outside Big Bear, not far from ski resorts in the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, according to police.

"This could have ended much better, it could have ended worse," said Beck as he drove to the hospital where the injured deputy was located. "I feel for the family of the deputy who lost his life."

The injured deputy is expected to survive but it is anticipated he will need several surgeries. The names of the two deputies have not been released.

TIMELINE: Manhunt for ex-LAPD officer

Just before 5 p.m., authorities smashed the cabin's windows, pumped in tear gas and called for the suspect to surrender, officials said. They got no response. Then, using a demolition vehicle, they tore down the cabin's walls one by one. When they reached the last wall, they heard a gunshot. Then the cabin burst into flames, officials said.

Last week, authorities said they had tracked Dorner to a wooded area near Big Bear Lake. They found his torched gray Nissan Titan with several weapons inside, the said, and the only trace of Dorner was a short trail of footprints in newly fallen snow.

According to a manifesto that officials say Dorner posted on Facebook, he felt the LAPD unjustly fired him several years ago, when a disciplinary panel determined that he lied in accusing his training officer of kicking a mentally ill man during an arrest. Beck has promised to review the case.

DOCUMENT: Read the manifesto

The manifesto vows "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" against law enforcement officers and their families. "Self-preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago," it said.

On Tuesday morning, two maids entered a cabin in the 1200 block of Club View Drive and ran into a man who they said resembled the fugitive, a law enforcement official said. The cabin was not far from where Dorner's singed truck had been found and where police had been holding news conferences about the manhunt.

The man tied up the maids, and he took off in a purple Nissan parked near the cabin, the official said. About 12:20 p.m., one of the maids broke free and called police.

FULL COVERAGE: Sweeping manhunt for ex-cop

Nearly half an hour later, officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spotted the stolen vehicle and called for backup, authorities said. The suspect turned down a side road in an attempt to elude the officers but crashed the vehicle, police said.

A short time later, authorities said, the suspect carjacked a light-colored pickup truck. Allan Laframboise said the truck belonged to his friend Rick Heltebrake, who works at a nearby Boy Scout camp.

Heltebrake was driving on Glass Road with his Dalmatian, Suni, when a hulking African American man stepped into the road, Laframboise said. Heltebrake stopped. The man told him to get out of the truck.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Searching for suspected shooter

"Can I take my dog?" Heltebrake asked, according to his friend.

"You can leave and you can take your dog," the man reportedly said. He then sped off in the Dodge extended-cab pickup -- and quickly encountered two Department of Fish and Wildlife trucks.

As the suspect zoomed past the officers, he rolled down his window and fired about 15 to 20 rounds, officials said. One of the officers jumped out and shot a high-powered rifle at the fleeing pickup. The suspect abandoned the vehicle and took off on foot, police said.

They said he ended up at the Seven Oaks Mountain Cabins, a cluster of wood-frame buildings about halfway between Big Bear Lake and Yucaipa. The suspect exchanged gunfire with San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies as he fled into a cabin that locals described as a single-story, multi-room structure.

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