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Police: Man in gunbattle preferred death to prison

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[February 27, 2010]  FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- The California man who authorities say killed one law enforcement officer and wounded two others in a gun fight at his mobile home was a paranoid private security guard who kept a gun collection and told his wife he would rather die than go to prison.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer identified Rick "Ricky" Ray Liles, 51, on Friday as the shooter and said he had been taking medication for depression and likely took his own life with a gunshot to his head during the Thursday shootout.

"He made a statement that he would not go to prison. Before going, he would take the lives of several officers before taking his own life," Dyer said.

Public records and accounts by officials portray Liles as a loner who came to the attention of Fresno County authorities who were investigating shots fired and a string of arson blazes in the village of Minkler on the highway to Kings Canyon National Park.

Liles was named in a search warrant involving the shed fires and gunshots that was being served just before the melee erupted.


Diane Liles, the gunman's wife, survived the gunbattle in which as many as 400 rounds were fired at the trailer by up to 25 deputies. Dyer said only the "grace of God" kept any bullets from hitting her as she laid on the bedroom floor of the single-wide trailer.

Before he died, Rick Liles apologized to his wife for "getting you into this," and they said they loved each other, she told investigators.

Sheriff Margaret Mims said Diane Liles won't be charged in the case.

Mary Novack, who runs the Minkler Cash Store across the highway from Liles' trailer, said the couple would come in regularly for sodas and cigarettes.

"No particular kind, just whatever was cheapest," Novack said.

Beginning in October, her store alarm would sometimes sound in the middle of the night as shots pierced her front window. Trajectory instruments used by authorities indicated the bullets might have came from the front porch of Liles' mobile home.

"I don't know why he'd do that. I never had any problem with him," said Novack, who witnessed the shootout.

"He seemed very, very polite, very nice and he came from a very good family," added Loretta Noble, whose daughter married Liles' brother. "I couldn't sleep last night, just thinking about it. I don't know what happened to him that he went off this way."

Court records indicate Rick Liles had an assortment of radar detectors, police scanners and a collection of five handguns, four rifles and an "a/r" - possible shorthand for the powerful AR-15 rifle police said he used during the gunbattle.

Dyer said Liles was found dead with six, 30-round magazines for the rifle, with three of them empty. He had three other rifles, a scope and six handguns.

Liles and his previous wife, Sandy, legally separated in 2000, citing an "irremediable breakdown" of their 13-year marriage in the court documents. He got the guns in a property settlement, and the couple also agreed to share custody of their 11-year-old daughter.

Liles obtained a security guard's license in 2002 and remained in good standing, according to records from the California Department of Consumer Affairs. A firearm permit he had since 2003 expired last summer.

Property records show Liles, who had blond hair and wore glasses, moved to Minkler at least three years ago. The hamlet has a population of only about 30 people and in 2004 listed itself for sale on eBay. The ad to "own your own town" for $600,000 never attracted a buyer.

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Novack said she was surprised to see authorities serving the search warrant Thursday at the trailer. They used a loudspeaker to repeatedly order anyone inside to surrender then smashed down the door and went inside before Novack heard gunfire.

Mims said the deputies had good tactical experience, were wearing bulletproof vests and had a plan to force entry if needed but didn't know Liles had an assault rifle and would fire through the door of the trailer.

"Plans don't always go the way you intend," Mims said.

A law enforcement expert said without further specifics, it was difficult to second-guess why the officers decided to approach the trailer rather than wait for Liles to emerge.

"One of the best things to do is to park down the street and sit there and just wait till the guy leaves," said Ed Nowicki, director emeritus of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association based in Burlington, Wis.

Mims said Joel Wahlenmaier, 49, the slain deputy, was a 12-year veteran of the department along with a husband and father of two adult children.

Police Officer Javier Bejar was critically wounded 80 yards from the trailer as he was positioned behind his patrol vehicle. Officials said he was not expected to recover from his injuries.

Deputy Mark Harris was wounded and is recovering at home.

Wahlenmaier worked as a detective in the homicide bureau and was a longtime member of the search and rescue team.


He was an avid hiker who used skills he honed in the Sierra Nevada backcountry during his stint on the rescue team.

"He knew the quirks of people that would help us find them in the field," said fellow deputy and longtime friend Eric Schmidt. "He takes with him a lot of knowledge."

Reedley City Manager Rocky Rogers said Bejar, who had two years on the police force, was being kept alive so his family could pay their last respects.

Julia Mendoza, whose son grew up with Bejar, said the officer was a former U.S. Marine who grew up in Orange Cove, a nearby citrus-growing town.

"He's a good man, a very good person and always there to help anyone he can," Mendoza said. "The family is just waiting at the hospital for God to perform a miracle."

[Associated Press; By TRACIE CONE and GARANCE BURKE]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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