Delhi shooting suspect eludes deputies

Merced County sheriff's deputies search near the mobile home that was the target in a shooting Tuesday.
Merced County sheriff's deputies search near the mobile home that was the target in a shooting Tuesday. Modesto Bee

DELHI -- A man suspected of shooting up a house Tuesday morning in Delhi led law enforcement officers on a wild chase that covered two counties.

About 2:30 a.m., Jaime Russell Neal, 29, of Delhi shot five rounds into his girlfriend's mobile home, Merced County Sheriff's spokesman Paul Barile said. Neal's girlfriend and her parents were in the home. No one was injured, Barile said.

Deputies chased Neal after the shooting but lost him when he drove into Stanislaus County. Police found him in Turlock but again lost track of him. Neal switched cars in Waterford and drove back into Merced County, Barile said.

Merced County Sheriff's deputies spotted Neal again in Delhi and chased him for about 10 minutes before he crashed his car into a utility pole at Shanks Road and August Avenue, across the street from Har- mony Elementary School, about 5:25 a.m. Neal ran into a neighborhood near Delhi High and Delhi Middle schools and disappeared, Barile said.

A Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department helicopter flew to the scene to look for Neal, and deputies surrounded the crash scene.

Investigators found a gun at the site but have not confirmed if it is the gun used to shoot at the house. Investigators don't know if Neal is armed.

They do know that Neal has been in trouble for carrying a weapon before. He has outstanding warrants for suspicion of possessing an assault rifle and suspicion of possessing methamphetamine for sale. Those warrants stem from failing to appear in court on Nov. 8, when he was scheduled for sentencing.

The judge issued a $999,999 warrant for Neal's arrest.

The Merced County Special Weapons and Tactics team called off its search for Neal about 11:45 a.m., Barile said. Investigators believe Neal was able to get someone to drive him out of the area.

In addition to outstanding warrants, Neal is wanted on suspicion of shooting into an inhabited dwelling and evading police. More charges could follow.

Neal is 6 feet 1 inch tall with black hair and brown eyes and weighs close to 300 pounds, authorities said.

After the crash, the search was focused on Shanks Road near Harmony Elementary, where 633 students attend school.

The search shut down Delhi High, Delhi Middle and Har- mony schools, said Delhi Unified School District spokeswoman Michelle Ellis. Sheriff's officials notified the district about 7 a.m.

Using a computerized calling service, district officials told parents and students to avoid the three campuses. Students who were at school were ushered into cafeterias, Ellis said.

"They gave us breakfast and told us what they knew, that they had blocked off the area and were checking houses," said Delhi High sophomore Alyssia Myers, 16.

Many students called their parents on cell phones to tell them what was going on, she added.

Some parents, however, said they felt poorly informed. Standing outside Harmony school, Alicia Solorio said in Spanish that she never received a message and didn't know what was going on until she brought her children to school.

Dropping off his son at Delhi High, Tio Garcia said he received a message but it did not explain why his son could not go to school. "All the message said was that the school was locked down, not why," he said.

The school district's first priority was making sure everyone was safe. Then officials focused on informing everyone of what had happened, Ellis said.

Students were sent home with letters from the district office explaining what happened, Ellis said. The campuses opened about 11:30 a.m., when the district got word from sheriff's officials that it was safe.

Investigators ask people with information of Neal's whereabouts to call the Merced County Sheriff's Department at 385-7445.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.

The Merced Sun-Star contributed to this report.

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