A young cop’s life shattered in am­bush

Po­lice de­tail brazen at­tack that killed ‘ris­ing star’

The Sacramento Bee - - Front Page - BY BENJY EGEL, MOLLY SUL­LI­VAN AND SAM STAN­TON [email protected]

Davis po­lice Of­fi­cer Natalie Corona died as the re­sult of a chill­ing, res­o­lute am­bush by a city res­i­dent on a bi­cy­cle who rode up to an ac­ci­dent scene she was in­ves­ti­gat­ing Thurs­day night, then opened fire with a hail of bul­lets from a semi­au­to­matic hand­gun, po­lice said.

Chief Darren Py­tel de­scribed an in­ex­pli­ca­ble at­tack that be­gan just be­fore 7 p.m. near Fifth and D streets as Corona re­sponded to a mi­nor three-car col­li­sion.

As she stood talk­ing to one of the mo­torists, the gun­man glided up on a bi­cy­cle, stop­ping in the shad­ows on a side­walk, then walked to­ward the 22year-old rookie po­lice of­fi­cer and be­gan fir­ing.

“The sus­pect ba­si­cally just opened up fir­ing, shot her once and she went down to the ground, and he ended up

shoot­ing her mul­ti­ple times,” Py­tel said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day night at po­lice head­quar­ters. “At that point, he un­loaded a magazine, reloaded and started shoot­ing in an­other di­rec­tion.”

The shoot­ing 24 hours be­fore was in­dis­crim­i­nate, Py­tel said: Corona, who was wear­ing a pro­tec­tive vest, was shot in the neck and went down, then shot nu­mer­ous more times.

“This clearly, to us, looks like an am­bush,” the chief said, adding, “At this point, we’re spec­u­lat­ing that she never saw him.”

Af­ter shoot­ing Corona, the gun­man opened up on the sur­round­ing scene, strik­ing a nearby fire en­gine, a house, a pass­ing bus, shoot­ing through a back­pack worn by a young woman who was saved when the round lodged in a text­book, and fir­ing at a fire­fighter run­ning away who was struck in his boot but un­in­jured.

Some­how, Corona was the only ca­su­alty of the shoot­ing spree, which ended when the gun­man ran to­ward a rental home he shared with a room­mate at 501 E St., Py­tel said.

“It ap­peared that he ba­si­cally cir­cled the block,” Py­tel said, leav­ing be­hind a back­pack and go­ing in­side his home. Once there, Py­tel said, the gun­man met up with his room­mate but gave no hint of the ram­page he had just con­ducted out­side.

Po­lice from through­out the re­gion rushed to the nor­mally quiet col­lege town, even­tu­ally sur­round­ing the home.

But even that show of force seemed to have lit­tle im­pact as the gun­man emerged from the house.

“At one point he did come out,” Py­tel said. “It ap­peared to of­fi­cers that he was wear­ing a bal­lis­tic vest, a bul­let­proof vest. He shouted some stuff, went back in and came back out with a firearm, then went back in­side, pushed a couch in front of the door and of­fi­cers heard a gun­shot.”

The gun­man had shot him­self in the head in­side the home, Py­tel said, leav­ing a com­plete mys­tery for now about what might have set him off.

Au­thor­i­ties still have not re­leased the gun­man’s name, say­ing they may not do so be­fore next week, but Py­tel said he had no known his­tory of vi­o­lence or threats. His only prior con­tact with Davis po­lice came last year when he re­ported be­ing a vic­tim of a crime, “noth­ing that was ex­tra­or­di­nary at all,” the chief said.

De­spite the ram­page, po­lice re­spond­ing to the scene never fired a sin­gle shot, Py­tel said, and much of the ini­tial shoot­ing ap­par­ently was cap­tured by the in-car cam­era in Corona’s SUV.

“It sounds like sounds like the video kept run­ning, and it hadn’t even down­loaded into the sys­tem be­cause the video was so long from the in­car cam­era,” he said.

Corona also was wear­ing a body cam­era, but Py­tel said he was not cer­tain whether that had been ac­ti­vated; given that she was in­ves­ti­gat­ing a mi­nor traf­fic mishap, she may not have turned it on, he said.

Corona, who grad­u­ated from the Sacra­mento Po­lice Depart­ment’s train­ing acad­emy in July and com­pleted her field train­ing just be­fore Christ­mas, re­sponded to the ac­ci­dent scene alone.

Chris­tian Pas­cual, a

25-year-old UC Davis grad­u­ate, was driv­ing a

1996 In­finiti on Fifth Street just be­fore 7 p.m. when an­other ve­hi­cle hit his car and sent Pas­cual out of con­trol and crash­ing into a third ve­hi­cle, he told The Sacra­mento Bee Fri­day morn­ing.

Pas­cual got out of his ve­hi­cle to ex­change in­for­ma­tion with the other driv­ers as Corona ar­rived and be­gan talk­ing to the driv­ers.

“I gave her my li­cense and she was just about to give it to me,” Pas­cual said. “That’s when I heard the shots.”

He said the shots came from di­rectly be­hind him, with the gun­man fir­ing over his right shoul­der so close to his ear that he was suf­fer­ing from hear­ing loss Fri­day morn­ing.

“The per­son was be­hind me and all of a sud­den I heard gun­shots,” he said.

Pas­cual added that he did not be­lieve the gun­man was one of the driv­ers in­volved in the col­li­sion and ap­peared to be a by­stander.

He said that when he heard the shots he in­stinc­tively ducked down.

“When I looked up and I saw the of­fi­cer on the ground he was al­ready walk­ing due west to­ward C Street, like just shoot­ing at what looked like ran­dom peo­ple to me,” Pas­cual said, adding that he knew then he had to flee.

“I just knew that I had to get out of there once I saw the gun and what was hap­pen­ing,” he said. “I count my­self pretty lucky that he didn’t think of me.”

Pas­cual, now a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Columbia Univer­sity in New York, said he was on his way to the UC Davis cam­pus to visit friends when the in­ci­dent be­gan, and that af­ter he saw Corona shot he ran down D Street and hid in some bushes.

An­other wit­ness told po­lice that she had been walk­ing about 15 feet from the shooter when she saw him open fire. The woman, who was up­set and did not want to be named, ar­rived at Davis po­lice head­quar­ters Fri­day af­ter­noon ac­com­pa­nied by two friends to re­port that she had found a bul­let in­side the back­pack she was wear­ing Thurs­day night.

Their har­row­ing tales came as au­thor­i­ties con­tin­ued to in­ves­ti­gate why the gun­man opened fire. Py­tel said he did not know if any notes or pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions for the ram­page were left be­hind, and said he could not yet re­lease the sus­pect’s iden­tity with­out au­tho­riza­tion from the Yolo County coro­ner.

Corona’s death was the first line-of-duty slay­ing for the depart­ment in nearly 60 years, and left its of­fi­cers and civil­ian staffers “ab­so­lutely dev­as­tated,” the chief said.

“She was a ris­ing star in the depart­ment,” Py­tel said. “She just worked like you can’t be­lieve.”

Of­fi­cers from through­out the re­gion and the Bay Area swarmed into Davis fol­low­ing the shoot­ing, forc­ing shel­ter-in-place warn­ings for UC Davis stu­dents and prompt­ing a flurry of text, phone and email alerts to the com­mu­nity.

The Davis depart­ment is rel­a­tively small, with 61 sworn of­fi­cers and 34 civil­ian staffers, and Davis po­lice spokesman Lt. Paul Doroshov de­scribed it as a fam­ily, say­ing of­fi­cers were “all pretty shocked” by the shoot­ing.

The depart­ment’s 2017 an­nual re­port said vi­o­lent and prop­erty crimes had de­creased steadily in re­cent years, with one homi­cide re­ported in 2017 and none in 2016.

The depart­ment has not had an of­fi­cer killed in the line of duty since Dou­glas Cantrill was gunned down Sept. 7, 1959.

Ac­cord­ing to the pre­vi­ous re­port­ing by The Sacra­mento Bee, the 23year-old pa­trol­man was found shot to death in his cruiser along H Street. Cantrill had stopped a man and woman act­ing sus­pi­cious in a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor when a strug­gle en­sued and the killer had shot him with his ser­vice pis­tol.

Two sus­pects were caught but never charged with the of­fi­cer’s slay­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Yolo County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.

Cantrill, who had only served on the Davis force for a month af­ter two years in law en­force­ment, was sur­vived by a wife and in­fant child, the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice said. His name is one of 11 in­scribed on Yolo County’s Fallen Of­fi­cer Me­mo­rial in Wood­land.

Davis po­lice turned the Corona shoot­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion over to the Sacra­mento County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment, which by Fri­day morn­ing had 14 homi­cide de­tec­tives and crime scene in­ves­ti­ga­tors at the scene of Corona’s slay­ing and the home where the gun­man shot him­self.

Sher­iff’s Sgt. Shaun Hamp­ton said Sacra­mento was called in to help be­cause the depart­ment is much larger than the Davis Po­lice Depart­ment and be­cause of its ex­pe­ri­ence with of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we’re no strangers to of­fi­cers get­ting killed in the line of duty,” Hamp­ton said, re­fer­ring to the fact that three Sacra­mento deputies have been shot to death on duty since 2014.

Some down­town Davis streets re­mained closed off Fri­day as in­ves­ti­ga­tors tried to piece to­gether what sparked the shoot­ing.

Gov. Gavin New­som is­sued a state­ment Fri­day mourn­ing her loss.

“Jennifer and I are ter­ri­bly sad­dened to learn of the death of Of­fi­cer Corona,” the gov­er­nor’s state­ment said. “Of­fi­cer Corona was pro­tect­ing her com­mu­nity from harm when she was trag­i­cally shot in the line of duty.

“De­spite the valiant ef­forts of paramedics who rushed her to the hos­pi­tal, and UC Davis Med­i­cal Cen­ter per­son­nel, she suc­cumbed to her in­juries.”

A can­dle­light vigil is sched­uled in Davis for Sat­ur­day from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cen­tral Park, and Py­tel said an honor guard of of­fi­cers will re­main watch­ing over Corona un­til she is buried.

The slain of­fi­cer was highly re­garded by her co-work­ers for her ex­u­ber­ance and love of the job, Py­tel said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked with any­body quite like her,” the chief said.

JOSÉ LUIS VIL­LE­GAS jvil­le­[email protected]

Davis Po­lice pre­pare to en­ter a home where they be­lieved the sus­pect in the shoot­ing death of Of­fi­cer Natalie Corona was hid­ing. The un­named sus­pect pushed a couch in front of the door and shot him­self to death.

JOSÉ LUIS VIL­LE­GAS jvil­le­[email protected]

Davis po­lice in­ves­ti­gate the area near Fifth and C streets af­ter Of­fi­cer Natalie Corona, 22, who grad­u­ated from the Sacra­mento Po­lice Depart­ment's train­ing acad­emy in July and com­pleted her field train­ing just be­fore Christ­mas, was gunned down on her beat Thurs­day.

HEC­TOR AMEZCUA [email protected]

An of­fi­cer places a util­ity belt into an ev­i­dence bag Fri­day along the down­town Davis street where Of­fi­cer Natalie Corona was killed. Corona re­sponded alone to a rou­tine ac­ci­dent of three cars when she was am­bushed Thurs­day.

HEC­TOR AMEZCUA [email protected]

Natalie Corona’s po­lice ve­hi­cle is towed Fri­day dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of her fa­tal shoot­ing in down­town Davis. Po­lice say they may not re­lease the name of the man who killed her be­fore shoot­ing him­self un­til next week.

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