MERCED COUNTY — A man is dead after pointing a rifle at Ceres police and California Highway Patrol officers early Wednesday after a freeway chase, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said.
Pazin said it's unknown whether the man died from a self-inflicted gunshot or shots fired by officers. Two Ceres police officers and one CHP officer were involved in the incident. Pazin said the name of the suspect hasn't been released, pending notification of family.
The Merced County Sheriff's Department will conduct the officer-involved-shooting portion of the investigation, Pazin and Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk said Wednesday.
Ceres police Lt. Brent Smith said the incident started about 12:18 a.m. near Don Pedro Road and Omie Lane. A police officer had pulled over the man's white Chevrolet pickup. After the officer informed the driver that his truck was going to be towed, the man drove away.
His car was going to be towed because he was driving with a suspended license. Why he was pulled over in the first place was not revealed Wednesday.
The man drove through a chain-link fence and onto southbound Highway 99, where the high-speed pursuit ensued, Smith said.
Crossed median of 99
Ceres police and the CHP officer followed the suspect, who eventually drove over the median of Highway 99 from the southbound lanes onto the northbound side of the freeway. The suspect drove onto the Sultana Drive onramp from Highway 99 near Livingston, wrecked his truck and then got out, Pazin said.
The man pulled out a rifle and pointed it at the officers, who fired, authorities said. At some point, the suspect suffered at least one gunshot wound to the head and was killed.
At a news conference Wednesday, Pazin said it's possible the suspect may have taken his own life, and it's unclear whether he was hit by the officers' gunfire. Pazin said detectives are awaiting autopsy results to help make that determination.
Pazin didn't release the names of the officers involved. He said the incident is a "testament to the good work of the officers" and underscores the dangers they often face, particularly in the aftermath of the recent killings of two Santa Cruz police officers.
"There's nothing routine about law enforcement anymore," Pazin said.
This is the third shooting involving a Ceres officer in four months.
Last month, two officers fired at a man inside his parents' home in the 2400 block of Pine Ridge Drive when he charged at them with a machete. Samuel Tome Matos was shot once in the arm and taken to the hospital. After he was treated, he was booked on suspicion of two felony counts of assault on a police officer.
In November, a Ceres officer shot a man who tried to ram him with his car after a short pursuit that started at the Del Taco restaurant at Mitchell Road and Whitmore Avenue.
Martin Moreno was shot once in the shoulder. He spent several days in the hospital before being booked at the Stanislaus County Jail on charges of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, felony evading, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and obstructing and resisting a public officer.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy contributed to this report.
Video from the scene.