Deputy died from friendly fire in am­bush

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY AMANDA LEE MY­ERS Associated Press writ­ers Brian Mel­ley and John Rogers in Los An­ge­les contributed to this re­port.

THOU­SAND OAKS

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 as­sault­style 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 Fri­day, ex­actly one month since 28-year-old Ian David Long at­tacked coun­try­mu­sic 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 Fri­day, 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 dev- as­tated.”

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.

Most body ar­mor worn by po­lice of­fi­cers in the United States can be pierced by bul­lets from an as­sault ri­fle, Ven­tura County Sher­iff Bill Ayub said.

Stronger ar­mor is avail­able, of­ten at an of­fi­cer’s own ex­pense, but many don’t like it, he said, as it can be heavy and cause fa­tigue.

The find­ing that Helus was killed by an­other law­man did not di­min­ish the hero­ism shown by both men, and no one is to blame but the gun­man him­self, Ayub said.

“He went there with a plan and a pur­pose and that was to take in­no­cent lives,” Ayub said. “The bur­den lies solely with him, not with those who tried to save lives.”

He called the sit­u­a­tion un­avoid­able.

“This was a dy­namic, chaotic event that led to a very brief but fu­ri­ous gun­bat­tle be­tween the killer and the law­men,” he said. “Sgt. Helus and the CHP of­fi­cer both know­ingly and willingly went into what can only be de­scribed as a com­bat sit­u­a­tion, risk­ing their own lives to save oth­ers … They were am­bushed al­most im­me­di­ately.”

Long threw smoke grenades into the bar, ob­struct­ing what em­ploy­ees and pa­trons could see be­fore he opened fire. He used a flash­light with a laser sight at­tached to his .45-cal­iber semi-au­to­matic pis­tol as he fired.

Pan­icked revel­ers ran for the doors, dived un­der ta­bles and piled on top of each other in an ef­fort to dodge the gun­fire. Oth­ers ran for their lives through other ex­its or broke through win­dows and jumped out, in­jur­ing them­selves in the flight.

DEAN MUS­GROVE Orange County Regis­ter

A photo at a me­mo­rial for Sgt. Ron Helus is seen Fri­day in Thou­sand Oaks. Author­i­ties say Helus, a sher­iff's deputy killed in a mass shoot­ing, was shot five times by a gun­man but struck fa­tally by a bul­let fired by a high­way pa­trol­man.

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