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Posted: 3/24/2002 7:04:54 AM EDT
Suspects caught in shooting of O.C. sheriff's deputy Sergeant survives point-blank wound to the face in Lake Forest. March 23, 2002 By ALDRIN BROWN, MARIE PADILLA and BILL RAMS The Orange County Register A Sheriff's Sergeant was shot in the face today but escaped serious injury during a point-blank gunfight with a man who appeared to be lying in wait for the opening of businesses and banks near a Lake Forest shopping center. The shooting touched off an intense manhunt. Police arrested the alleged gunman when he turned up at a Riverside County hospital to seek medical care for a gunshot wound to his right leg. His alleged accomplice was arrested a short time later following a pursuit in Santa Ana. Police identified the suspected gunman as a 16-year-old juvenile from Santa Ana. His accomplice was Miguel Valdivinos, also of Santa Ana. Sgt. Kurt Vasentine, 45, was in good condition after the bullet tore through his right cheek, traveled down his neck and lodged under his collarbone. The round didn't fracture any bones or sever vital arteries, according to doctors at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. "He's very fortunate," Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo said. "Like the doctor said, it is an accident that the sergeant is not dead." Relatives of the 24-year veteran officer voiced relief that the injuries were minor. "It scared the (life) out of me," said his father, Gene Vasentine of Camarillo. "It makes your blood run cold." The elder Vasentine said he relaxed once he heard his son on the phone. "He sounded great; perfectly great," said the elder Vasentine, 71. "He said his head feels kind of swollen. The bullet went through his cheek but didn't knock out any teeth. I plan on going out and buying him a big bag of jawbreakers." Vasentine was on routine patrol just after 8 a.m. when he happened upon a white Nissan Altima parked in an alley behind the shopping center in the 23800 block of El Toro Road. The driver was lying in the reclined driver's seat. As the sergeant approached the Altima – which was later determined to have been stolen from Tustin – the driver tried to run. Vasentine grabbed the suspect and they struggled. The juvenile suspect pulled a handgun from his pocket, shot the officer and ran, Jaramillo said. Vasentine fired several rounds from his own 9-millimeter, which are believed to have struck the suspect in the right leg.
Link Posted: 3/24/2002 7:05:41 AM EDT
Cont'd: Despite the apparent injuries, the juvenile scaled a 5-foot-tall block wall and ran a block west through a parking lot to Bridger Road, where he flailed his arms and was picked up by a black Toyota Avalon sedan, witnesses told police. Bud Bergquist, owner of the nearby Green Thumb Nursery, said he didn't see the suspects but heard shots. "There were three or four of them and it was obvious they were gunshots," Bergquist said. The Avalon had been stolen during a carjacking in Santa Ana Heights about 2:55 a.m. today. In that crime, the Avalon's owner arrived just as the thieves were breaking into the car in the 12100 block of Edinger Avenue. The suspects pointed a gun at the owner and took the vehicle. A Santa Ana police officer spotted the Avalon this afternoon and a short chase followed. Valdivinos was arrested after a short foot pursuit. "We're gratified that it was this quick," Jaramillo said. "These were dangerous, dangerous guys. They presented a real threat to the public." Detectives were trying to determine why the suspects were in the area around the shopping center, apparently waiting in stolen cars. "They could have been planning any number of things; robbery is among them," Jaramillo said. Robbers who target banks or other businesses commonly use stolen cars while committing crimes so they can quickly dispose of the vehicles during their getaway. Several banks and numerous other businesses sit within a block of where the shooting occurred. Sheriff's officials praised Vasentine for maintaining his composure after the shooting. The officer used his radio to call for help and to relay a description of the gunman. "You've got to give that Sergeant a lot of credit," Jaramillo said. "He managed to keep it together. His composure and ability to react quickly and professionally helped."
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