Possibly the last person to speak with killing spree suspect Christopher Dorner was 'Ranger Rick' Heltebrake, a year-round manager at Boy Scout Camp Tahquitz.
It was on the road of the camp owned by Long Beach Area Boy Scouts that Heltebrake and his Dalmatian Suni came upon the most wanted man in America.
And he let them walk away.
Authorities say Dorner was possibly armed with firepower that penetrates cars and body armor and can hit targets 20 football fields away. Moments after he trained a rifle at Heltebrake, police say Dorner, 33, engaged in a shoot-out that left a San Bernardino sheriff's deputy dead, another wounded and a burned down cabin, where he is thought to have perished.
Had Heltebrake worn his special event olive green uniform, "the outcome definitely could have been different," he said. That was about as reflective as Heltebrake, 61, got in describing his escape from the accused killer.
"People keep asking me how am I dealing with it? It's over and he's dead and I have to go plow snow tomorrow," said the man known as 'Ranger Rick' to thousands of Southern California Boy Scouts. "What I have to deal with, is what to do about my truck."
He might find some help with that. Heltebrake's quick cell phone call Tuesday to a San Bernardino sheriff's deputy telling him that Dorner was in the ranger's white truck and heading toward the deputy may earn him the $1 million reward for Dorner's capture.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Thursday afternoon that 20 potential reward candidates will be reviewed.
But it was Heltebrake's warning call that effectively led to the end of the nationally-watched manhunt for Dorner, a fired Los Angeles Police Department officer who had vowed revenge on about 50 people he blamed for his ruin.
On Tuesday, Heltebrake was returning from lunch at Oaks Restaurant in Angelus Oaks and making his rounds, driving the roads of Camp Tahquitz, a square mile of property where he works full-time for the Long Beach Area Boy Scouts. More than 2,000 Southern California boy scouts yearly visit the camp in Angelus Oaks. Nearly 200 of them were expected over this coming three-day weekend.
Heltebrake was making his way on the winding roads looking for rogue campfires or an abandoned car on the property, which sometimes attracts snowboarders and dog walkers. It was around noon on Glass Road heading away from the main Highway 38, when up ahead Heltebrake saw sheriff's vehicles. They had two deputies per unit, and Heltebrake knew: something's going on.
He reached the end of curvy Glass Road on the western flank of Tahquitz and turned around to head back. Half a mile before reaching the highway, he rounded a right-hand bend.
Suni, the Dalmatian known to rangers and deputies and locals as Ranger Rick's constant companion, was in her passenger seat perch. There was movement up on his left, someone taking cover behind a big tree. Heltebrake realizes a gunman was striding toward him.
"I see this person, I'm not going very fast, he comes out of the snow and I see a crashed vehicle behind him, as if he went up a snow bank," recalled Heltebrake. "And I could see Christopher Dorner, gun pointed right at me. I stopped, put the truck in park and raised up my hands.
"He said 'I don't want to hurt you, start walking up the road. And take your dog,'" Heltebrake continued. "She was sitting in the passenger seat. I asked him if I could grab her leash, which would have been in the back seat, and he said, 'No, just start walking and Suni and me started walking up the road. So I'm walking up the road, Suni's with me, I'm pulling her by her collar."
About 10 seconds later came "a loud volley of gunfire, 15 to 20 shots, and I looked back."
Only now, Heltebrake said, he was around a bend. When he looked over his shoulder, he was out of sight. He and his dog started running off the road into the snow, "and took cover behind a big tree. And I called the local deputy, who I'd seen earlier on the road. I called him directly on his cell phone, and he said, 'What you got?'
"I said 'he just took my truck ... and he's heading your way.' He asked for a description of my truck, said OK, and we hung up," Heltebrake continued, "And I just kept running towards the highway in the snow, Suni following me."
As Heltebrake and Suni made their way toward the main highway, San Bernardino sheriff's deputies were soon exchanging gunfire. Dorner crashed Heltebrake's truck and ran to a cabin, where he fired on law enforcement officers. Covered live by a nearby TV crew nearby, the extended stand-off gripped the mountain area.
Glimpse of Humanity Shown by Dorner
Heltebrake and Suni reached the main road a half mile from the Dorner encounter, and a friend comes to pick them up to take them to a California Highway Patrol road closure.
"I just wanted to sit and relax where I felt safe," Heltebrake said. "The thing is, Dorner approached me, he was very calm, I stayed very calm. He said, 'I don't want to hurt you,' and I believe he didn't want to hurt me. It was clear I was not a target of his. Unfortunately, he found [uniformed officers]."
Heltebrake stressed that he was not at all condoning Dorner or his killing of innocent people, only relaying the events.
"His demeanor was calm, professional, almost business-like; this whole thing was like a business transaction .... I felt a little bit of compassion from him, he said 'take your dog.' He had some kind of compassion inside and that was where the dog came in."
Dorner is accused of killing two law enforcement officers who were not related to his LAPD firing. He wounded others. It does not appear Dorner spoke to anyone else in the minutes between Heltebrake's encounter and his last stand.
"He was probably the last person to have spoken to Mr. Dorner," said Long Beach Area Boy Scouts CEO John Fullerton. "His dog, Suni, also was part of the [Dorner] encounter."
Fullerton said the three-day weekend event at the camp has been cancelled with the massive press corps and command post located at its lodge.
Now, Heltebrake has the task of repairing his truck, resuming Camp Tahquitz operations for next weekend, and seeking the $1 million reward.
If that happens, he said, he would still work for the Boy Scouts Camp Tahquitz. What might he spend the reward on, perhaps a diamond collar for his beloved pooch Suni?
"Dalmations only wear red collars," he texted. "I might buy some trucks."
Other stories about the Christopher Dorner manhunt and outcome:
- Camp Tahquitz Ranger's Confrontation With Dorner
- Dorner's Mom: Condolences to Those Harmed By Son
- Officials: Manhunt Called Off; Cabin Fire Not Deliberate
- Human Remains Found in Cabin; No Dorner ID
- Woman Thought to be Dorner's Mother Seen Watching News Coverage at La Palma Restaurant
- Social Media Following Dorner Manhunt
- LAPD: Dorner May Have Visited Manhattan Beach Hotel
- TMZ: Dorner Visited Sport Chalet Before Killings
- Did Dorner Have an Accomplice?
- Ex-Deputy Chief: Dorner May Target Command Posts
- LAPD Issues All-Clear in Reported Northridge Dorner Sighting [Video]
- Manifesto by Manhunt Target Christopher Dorner
- Long Beach Woman Reportedly Was Married to Dorner
- UPDATE: $1M Reward Offered for Dorner's Arrest
- Police: Shootings Case of Mistaken Identity
- Dorner's Suspected Trek Through California