The shooting death of Davis Police Officer Natalie Corona Thursday night began with a routine collision that spiraled out of control when a bystander suddenly opened fire on Corona at close range, according to one of the drivers in the crash.
Christian Pascual, a 25-year-old UC Davis graduate, was driving a 1996 Infiniti on Fifth Street just before 7 p.m. when another vehicle hit his car and sent Pascual out of control and crashing into a third vehicle, he told The Sacramento Bee Friday morning.
Pascual got out of his vehicle to exchange information with the other drivers as Corona arrived and began talking to the drivers.
“I gave her my license and she was just about to give it to me,” Pascual said. “That’s when I heard the shots.”
He said the shots came from directly behind him, with the gunman firing over his right shoulder so close to his ear that he was suffering from hearing loss Friday morning.
“The person was behind me and all of a sudden I heard gunshots,” he said.
Pascual added that he did not believe the gunman was one of the drivers involved in the collision and appeared to be a bystander.
He said that when he heard the shots he instinctively ducked down.
“When I looked up and I saw the officer on the ground he was already walking due west toward C Street, like just shooting at what looked like random people to me,” Pascual said, adding that he knew then he had to flee.
“I just knew that I had to get out of there once I saw the gun and what was happening,” he said. “I count myself pretty lucky that he didn’t think of me.”
Pascual, now a graduate student at Columbia University in New York, said he was on his way to the UC Davis campus to visit friends when the incident began, and that after he saw Corona shot he ran down D Street and hid in some bushes.
Another witness told police that she had been walking about 15 feet from the shooter when she saw him open fire. The woman, who was upset and did not want to be named, arrived at Davis police headquarters Friday afternoon accompanied by two friends to report that she had found a bullet inside the backpack she was wearing Thursday night.
Their harrowing tales came as authorities continued to investigate why the gunman opened fire. The identity of the suspect, who officers say shot himself to death inside a nearby home after being surrounded by police, was not released by mid-morning Friday, although authorities know who the man was.
Davis police turned the shooting investigation over to the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, which by Friday morning had 14 homicide detectives and crime scene investigators at the scene of Corona’s slaying and the home where the gunman apparently shot himself.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Shaun Hampton said Sacramento was called in to help because the department is much larger than the 61-member Davis Police Department and because of its experience with officer-involved shootings.
“Unfortunately, we’re no strangers to officers getting killed in the line of duty,” Hampton said, referring to the fact that three Sacramento deputies have been shot to death on duty since 2014.
Some downtown Davis streets remained closed off Friday as investigators tried to piece together what sparked the shooting, which began just before 7 p.m. after Corona responded to a report of a three-car collision.
Corona, 22, is the first Davis officer killed in the line of duty since 1959, and Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement Friday mourning her loss.
“Jennifer and I are terribly saddened to learn of the death of Officer Corona,” the governor’s statement said. “Officer Corona was protecting her community from harm when she was tragically shot in the line of duty.
“Despite the valiant efforts of paramedics who rushed her to the hospital, and UC Davis Medical Center personnel, she succumbed to her injuries.”