LOS ANGELES – There was no question. The man standing before Rick Heltebrake on a rural mountain road was Christopher Dorner.
Clad in camouflage from head to toe and wearing a bulletproof vest packed with ammunition, the most wanted man in America over the last week was just a few feet away, having emerged from a grove of trees holding a large, assault-style rifle.
As teams of officers who had sought the fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer since last week were closing in, Dorner pointed the gun at Heltebrake and ordered him to get out of his truck.
I don’t want to hurt you. Start walking and take your dog, Heltebrake recalled Dorner saying during the carjacking Tuesday.
The man, who wasn’t lugging any gear, got into the truck and drove away. Heltebrake, with his 3-year-old Dalmatian Suni in tow, called police when he heard a volley of gunfire erupt soon after, then hid behind a tree.
A short time later, police caught up with the man they believe was Dorner, surrounding a cabin in which he had taken refuge after crashing Heltebrake’s truck 80 miles east of Los Angeles.
A gunfight ensued in which one sheriff’s deputy was killed and another wounded.
Then, as the gunfire ended, the cabin erupted in flames.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Wednesday his deputies did not intentionally burn down the cabin. His deputies shot pyrotechnic tear gas into the cabin, and it erupted in flames, he said.
McMahon did not say directly that the tear gas started the blaze, and the cause of the fire remained unclear.
A charred body was found in the basement, along with a wallet and personal items, including a California driver’s license with the name Christopher Dorner, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
McMahon said authorities have not positively identified the remains.
Recalling his encounter, Heltebrake said Wednesday that he wasn’t panicked in his meeting with Dorner because he didn’t feel the fugitive wanted to hurt him.
He wasn’t wild-eyed, just almost professional, he said. He was on a mission.
It was clear I wasn’t part of his agenda and there were other people down the road that were part of his agenda, he said.
Dorner, 33, had said in a rant that authorities believe he posted on Facebook last week that he expected to die, with the police chasing him, as he embarked on a campaign of revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for firing him.
The apparent end came in the same mountain range where Dorner’s trail went cold six days earlier, after his pickup truck – with guns and camping gear inside – was found abandoned and on fire near the ski resort town of Big Bear Lake.
His footprints led away from the truck and vanished on frozen soil.
Deputies searched door-to-door in the city of Big Bear Lake and then, in a blinding snowstorm, SWAT teams with bloodhounds and high-tech equipment in tow focused on scouring hundreds of vacant cabins in the forest outside of town.
Authorities often didn’t enter occupied homes where nothing appeared amiss, a spokesman said.
That could have been how Dorner went overlooked in a cabin just across the street from a police command post set up to capture him.
LAPD Lt. Andrew Neiman said his agency had returned to normal patrol operations Wednesday but about a dozen targets Dorner threatened to go after would continue to be protected until the remains are positively identified.
This really is not a celebration, he said.