Friendly fire killed sergeant in Calif. bar shooting
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — As terrified people scrambled out of broken windows, screaming and bleeding and fleeing a mass shooting inside a California bar, Sgt. Ron Helus and a highway patrolman decided to try to stop the gunman, running in together with assault-style rifles to what turned out to be an ambush.
Almost immediately inside the dark and smoky bar, the gunman fired on the officers, hitting Helus five times. They retreated and returned fire.
What happened next is every officer’s worst nightmare: One of the patrolman’s bullets hit his fellow policeman, piercing his heart and killing him.
That Helus was killed by friendly fire emerged for the first time at a somber news conference yesterday, exactly one month since 28-year-old Ian David Long attacked country-music lovers at the Borderline Bar and Grill in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, killing 12 and wounding 22 others.
Long, who wasn’t hit by either officer’s gunfire, fatally shot himself after the firefight.
Officials didn’t have much else to update about the investigation yesterday, nothing more on the motive or the exact timeline of events — just the news that broke all their hearts, most of all that of the patrolman, who learned of the terrible mistake for the first time Thursday.
“I delivered the message to him ... He had no clue it was coming,” said L.D. Maples, chief of the California Highway Patrol’s coastal division. “It surprised all of us. He’s devastated.”
The patrolman was only identified as a nine-year veteran of the department. He is on leave.
“We’re trying to take care of him right now,” Maples said.
Helus was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was shot, but officials did not say where the bullet entered his body. His wounds from Long’s handgun were serious, but potentially survivable, including two that hit Helus on the edge of his vest, said Christopher Young, the county’s chief medical examiner.
Helus, a 29-year veteran of the department, was close to retirement when he was killed. He is survived by a wife and son.
SAD NEWS: A photo at a memorial for Sgt. Ron Helus is seen yesterday in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Authorities say Helus, killed in a mass shooting at a Southern California bar in November, was shot five times by the gunman, but was fatally struck by a bullet fired by a highway patrolman.