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FORT BRAGG (CBS / AP) — On Tuesday night, George Bundy Wasson, a retired educator, was recounting legends of his Coquille Tribe in a storytelling session at the University of Oregon.
By early Wednesday morning, however, Wasson, 79, was found shot to death in his burning hone in Eugene, Ore., police said.
Now investigators are trying to determine if Wasson was the first victim of Ricardo Antonio Chaney, who is also suspected of carjacking two men a short time later outside their home in Eugene before driving the stolen black BMW sedan to California. Once he arrived there, Chaney shot and killed Mendocino County Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino before being shot and killed himself by police, sheriff’s officials said.
Eugene police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said it was “more likely than not” that Wasson was shot dead by Chaney.
McLaughlin would not divulge any more details of the slaying of Wasson, who lived alone. Chaney had earlier been considered a person of interest by police because he knew Wasson’s family.
Authorities responding to the fire around 12:36 a.m. Wednesday at Wasson’s home found his body. The fire was started after Wasson was killed, authorities said.
Police said less than an hour after Wasson’s house was found on fire, Chaney stole a black, 2006 BMW 330i four-door sedan at gunpoint about five miles away near Autzen Stadium. The two occupants, men in their 20s, were leaving their home when Chaney forced them into the trunk at gunpoint, police said.
They were able to escape before the car left the parking lot and called 911. Neither man was injured.
About 10 hours after the carjacking, the sheriff’s office received a call from an employee of Confusion Hill, a California tourist attraction along Highway 101, about 180 miles north of San Francisco, that offers train rides through redwoods.
John Mills, 55, a front-desk worker, said he had found a man — later identified by authorities as Chaney — urinating outside a bathroom in a fenced park area. When Mills told him to leave, Chaney cursed and briefly drove away, but he then returned with a double-barreled shotgun, Mills said.
“Things went sideways from there,” said Mills, who grabbed a baton and hit the shotgun as the attacker came through the entrance, causing the weapon to fire a round into the ground.
Mills said Chaney then pointed the shotgun directly at him. Mills said he dropped down and rolled into a kitchen door, as another round was fired.
Mills said he got a pistol from the kitchen and shot back at Chaney, who fled to his car and drove away.
“Unfortunately, my aim wasn’t too good. If I had been better, then he might not have made it to do what he did later,” Mills told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Chaney was spotted about an hour later by a deputy, but he got away during a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 mph. He was encountered by Del Fiorentino in Cleone, a rural area with a mix of homes, forest and open fields, a little before noon.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said Chaney opened fire with an AK-47-style assault rifle, spraying Del Fiorentino’s vehicle with bullets. Fort Bragg police Lt. John Naulty, who was searching for Chaney nearby, heard the gunfire and found Chaney going through the deputy’s vehicle, the sheriff said.
Chaney fired six or seven rounds at Naulty, who returned fire, Allman said. Chaney was later found dead.
Del Fiorentino, once a wrestling coach at Fort Bragg High School, began as a deputy with Mendocino County in 1988. He spent 10 years with the Fort Bragg Police Department before returning to the sheriff’s office in 2000.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris paid tribute to him. “His tragic death is a stark reminder of the danger our brave men and women in law enforcement face every day to keep our communities safe,” she said in a statement.
The cause of the rampage still remained unclear Thursday, Capt. Greg Van Patten said as colleagues mourned Del Fiorentino’s death. “Today is much harder than yesterday to grasp,” he said.
A tearful Allman told reporters during a news conference late Wednesday in Fort Bragg that “I wish you weren’t here, and I wish I wasn’t here.”
A colleague of Wasson’s praised him as an excellent educator. Wasson had been an assistant dean of students, and he taught history and anthropology at the University of Oregon, university spokeswoman Julie Brown said.
“His guidance and wisdom and living his tribal values certainly set a good example for the students. That is gone now,” said Gordon Bettles, steward of the Many Nations Longhouse at the University of Oregon, where Wasson had spoken on Tuesday.
The investigation of the shootings was turned over to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s office and it could take weeks before any findings are released, spokesman Mike Geniella said. Autopsies were scheduled for Friday.
Chaney had a history of problems with law enforcement.
The Eugene police website shows police contacted Chaney in his car late at night on March 6 after using GPS to track a stolen cellphone to the location. He was homeless and living in his car, McLaughlin said.
Chaney refused a request to search the vehicle. After he drove away, police pulled him over for traffic violations. They found he had no insurance and impounded the vehicle. A search turned up several firearms, including a modified AR-15 assault-style rifle and body armor, police reported.
Chaney was arrested on suspicion of unlawful possession of a firearm and methamphetamine, and booked into Lane County Jail, where records show he was released the same day without being charged.
Chaney was taken into custody four other times dating back to 2002 on suspicion of assault, interfering with police, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass, jail records show . The resolution of those cases could not be immediately determined.
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