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Sheriff: There was no intent to burn cabin to get Dorner

11:53 PM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
A California Highway Patrol officer guards a roadblock in early hours February 13, 2013 on Highway 38 near the Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains of California, near the location where suspected cop killer Christopher Dorner is believed to have been killed earlier in a shoot-out at a cabin. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR / Getty Images
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By Donna Leinwand Leger, Chris Woodyard and Michael Winter, USA TODAY

Deputies did not intentionally burn down the Southern California mountain cabin where fugitive Christopher Dorner apparently made his deadly last stand Tuesday, the San Bernardino County sheriff said Wednesday.

"We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out," Sheriff John McMahon said at an afternoon news conference.

He said deputies initially fired conventional "cold" tear gas into the cabin in Seven Oaks, near Big Bear Lake, then switched to "pyrotechnic-type" rounds" known as "burners."

Authorities have strong evidence that the man deputies tracked to the vacation cabin looked and behaved like Dorner, he said. And though he still could not "absolutely, positively confirm" that the charred body found inside was Dorner's, the sheriff said the coroner would likely make the determination "soon."

A wallet with a California driver's license bearing the name Christopher Dorner was found, the Associated Press reported earlier, citing a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation.

"We believe the investigation is over at this point," McMahon said.

It was also revealed that during the manhunt deputies had knocked on the door of the cabin, which was built in the 1920s, but moved on when they got no answer.

They do not believe Dorner was in the cabin, which showed no signs of forced entry and had not been rented since Feb. 6, the day before Dorner's burned-out pickup was found, said Sheriff's Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky, who was in charge of the search.

"We did an extensive search of that area," said Kovensky. "All the cabins in that particular area had teams of deputies to check to see if there was any entry and if we could make contact."

The fiery conclusion to the violent standoff in the San Bernardino Mountains was no cause for celebration to police officers working the case, Los Angeles Police Lt. Andy Neiman said earlier Wednesday.

"It was horrifying to listen to that firefight, to hear those words 'officer down,' " Neiman said.

Two San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were shot, one fatally, before fire engulfed the cabin where the 33-year-old Dorner was believed to have taken refuge after stealing two vehicles and trading gunfire with California wildlife officers.

"Our deepest sympathy to the families" of the deputies who were shot, Neiman said.

The Inland Empire Emerald Society, a charity for families of fallen officers, first identified the slain deputy as 35-year-old Detective Jeremiah MacKay, of Redlands, a 15-year department veteran, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported Wednesday. McMahon confirmed MacKay's death at the news conference.

McMahon identified the other deputy who was shot as Alex Collins, who has undergone multiple surgeries and will require more.

"He's in good spirits and should make a full recovery after a number of additional surgeries," he added.

Authorities have not identified the weapons or caliber of bullets used in Tuesday's firefight.

McMahon said hundreds of rounds were fired.

"It was like a war zone, and our deputies continued to go into that area. The rounds kept coming and they did not give up," he said, calling his men "absolutely true heroes."

MacKay's death was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what his Facebook manifesto outlined as a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the police department in 2009.

The victims include Riverside Officer Michael Crain, 34, who was fatally shot a week ago as he sat in his police cruiser. On Wednesday, thousands of people gathered for Crain's funeral.

Neiman said that investigations will continue at least until Dorner's body is positively identified. LAPD, which had been on high alert since Dorner began his rampage, has returned to normal operations, Neiman said.

Still, police will continue to protect dozens of officers and others Dorner threatened in his rambling manifesto, Neiman said.

"The task force is still in place, and they will work until there's nothing left to be done," he said. "We don't just stop a murder case simply because we think that the suspect in that case" is dead.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said it was "highly likely" that Dorner had been inside when authorities heard a single gunshot and saw the cabin burning after SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside as part of a "tactical operation" that involved tearing down its walls to flush out Dorner.

Police said Dorner had been holed up since Thursday in a different cabin - 20 to 30 yards from the site where news media gathered and received sheriff's briefings daily on the massive manhunt after Dorner's burned truck was found earlier that day.

Dorner was discovered Tuesday by two cleaning women who entered the cabin. Lt. Patrick Foy, with the California Fish and Wildlife Department, said Dorner tied them up with plastic zip ties and left in their car, wrecked it, then stole a truck from its driver.

Rick Heltebrake, the Boy Scout camp manager whose truck Dorner commandeered, said Wednesday that he was exhausted from taking calls from media and well-wishers all night.

"We just want to go on from here," Heltebrake said as he came by a police checkpoint in Angelus Oaks.

He described his encounter with the fugitive - which he said lasted about 10 seconds - as if it were a business transaction. A terrifying moment? "I didn't feel like it was. He said he didn't want to hurt me and I believed him," he said.

"There was no panic," Heltebrake said. "I got a little freaked when I heard the gunfire."

Dorner was dressed in military-style camouflage and was toting only one weapon, an military-style rifle. The victim, who runs a camp for Boy Scouts of America, says he didn't get a good look at it because it was pointed right at him.

He added that Dorner did not look disheveled, unshaven or like a man whom might have been holed up under difficult conditions for a week.

He is grateful, in fact, that Doerner let him take his beloved 3-year-old Dalmatian, Suni, when he bailed from his truck.

"That was a little bit of compassion," he said.

Helterbrake said he then dove into a snowbank and hid behind a tree when he heard the gunfire moments later. He didn't know California game wardens were right behind Dorner.

After exchanging gunfire with officers, Dorner ran into the woods and broke into the cabin. As SWAT closed in, a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames. As the fire grew, more gunshots were heard - apparently ammunition ignited by the fire, authorities said.

Authorities let the cabin burn.

"We won't allow them (firefighters) to get close to the cabin,'' said sheriff's spokeswoman Cathy Bachman. "It's just not safe.''

Dorner previously was charged with killing Crain, the Riverside police officer, and was the prime suspect in the murders of Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, on Feb. 3. She was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain whom Dorner blamed for his firing after reporting alleged abuse by another officer. Randal Quan represented Dorner during his termination hearing.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had called Dorner "a domestic terrorist," and a $1 million reward, raised from public and private sources, was offered. Police received more than 1,000 tips.

Neiman said it was not clear who, if anyone, might claim the reward if the body is confirmed to be that of Dorner.

Contributing: William M. Welch in Los Angeles and John Bacon in McLean, Va.

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