Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 2:08 p.m.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A suspect in the killing of a sheriff's deputy in California has been linked to the case of a 79-year-old man who was shot and killed before his body was found by officials responding to a fire, authorities said Thursday.
Ricardo Antonio Chaney, 32, was called a person of interest because he knew the family of victim George Bundy Wasson, Eugene police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said.
She said Chaney was not considered a suspect.
McLaughlin would not divulge any details of the slaying, other than that Wasson was shot and killed, and lived in a big house.
Authorities responding to the fire around 12:36 a.m. Wednesday in Eugene found Wasson's body. The fire was started after he was killed, according to authorities.
Chaney is suspected of carjacking two men a short time later before driving to California, where sheriff's officials say he later shot and killed Mendocino County Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino before being shot and killed by a police officer.
Police said the two carjacking victims escaped and were unharmed.
The details of the deputy's shooting were recounted by a tearful Sheriff Tom Allman at a news conference in Fort Bragg, Calif., near the site of the deputy's slaying.
"I wish you weren't here, and I wish I wasn't here," Allman told reporters.
The cause of the rampage remained unclear. The Eugene police website shows police contacted Chaney in his car late at night on March 6 after using GPS to track a stolen cellphone to the location.
Chaney refused a request to search his car. After he drove away, police pulled him over for traffic violations. They found he had no insurance and during a search of the vehicle, discovered several firearms, including a modified AR-15 assault-style rifle and body armor, police reported.
Chaney was arrested on suspicion of unlawful possession of a firearm and methamphetamine, and booked into Lane County Jail, where records show he was released the same day without being charged.
Jail records show Chaney was taken into custody four other times dating back to 2002 on suspicion of assault, interfering with police, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. The resolution of those cases could not be immediately determined.
The chase on Wednesday that ended with the killings began in Eugene, with the early morning theft of a black BMW. The two occupants were forced into the trunk but had not been located as of Wednesday night, the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported.
Allman said they might have escaped or been freed at some point.
About 10 hours after the carjacking, the sheriff's office received a call from an employee of Confusion Hill, a California tourist attraction along Highway 101, about 180 miles north of San Francisco, that offers train rides through redwoods.
John Mills, 55, a front-desk worker, said he had found a man — later identified by authorizes as Chaney — urinating outside a bathroom in a fenced park area. When Mills told him to leave, Chaney cursed and briefly drove away, but then returned with a double-barreled shotgun, Mills said.
"Things went sideways from there," said Mills, who grabbed a baton and hit the shotgun as the attacker came through the entrance, causing the weapon to fire a round into the ground.
Mills said Chaney then pointed the shotgun directly at him. Mills said he dropped down and rolled into a kitchen door, as another round was fired.
Mills said he got a pistol from the kitchen and shot back at Chaney, who fled to his car and drove away.
"Unfortunately, my aim wasn't too good. If I had been better, then he might not have made it to do what he did later," Mills told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Chaney was spotted about an hour later by a deputy but got away during a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 mph. He was encountered by Del Fiorentino in Cleone, a rural area with a mix of homes, forest and open fields, a little before noon.
Allman said Chaney opened fire with an AK-47-style assault rifle, spraying Del Fiorentino's vehicle with bullets. Fort Bragg police Lt. John Naulty, who was searching for Chaney nearby, heard the gunfire and found Chaney going through the deputy's vehicle, the sheriff said.
Chaney fired six or seven rounds at Naulty, who returned fire, Allman said. Chaney was later found dead.
Del Fiorentino, once a wrestling coach at Fort Bragg High School, began as a deputy with Mendocino County in 1988. He spent 10 years with the Fort Bragg Police Department before returning to the sheriff's office in 2000.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris paid tribute to him.
"His tragic death is a stark reminder of the danger our brave men and women in law enforcement face every day to keep our communities safe," she said in a statement.