A search for car-theft suspects in an Auburn Boulevard Ramada Inn on Wednesday turned into a violent shootout that left a veteran Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy dead and two California Highway Patrol officers wounded.
Deputy Robert French, 52, died on the way to the hospital, Sheriff Scott Jones said. He was a 21-year veteran of the department and worked as a training officer with the north area patrol unit.
“This is certainly the most difficult thing a department can go through,” Jones said. “We’ll survive this as a community. We’ve been through it before. But it is painful. It will take a period of grieving.”
French is survived by a live-in girlfriend, adult children and grandchildren, Jones said. “He was a very go-to guy for advice and counsel,” he said.
Two California Highway Patrol officers remained hospitalized Wednesday and are expected to survive, Jones said. CHP is withholding their names for now, said agency spokesman Chad Hertzell.
Three suspects were arrested in connection with the incident, but their names had not been made public as of Wednesday evening. Guns drawn, officers searched the Ramada on Wednesday afternoon for two suspects that were thought to possibly remain inside the motel, but they weren’t found.
The fatal series of events started Wednesday morning at the Ramada Inn in the 2600 block of Auburn Boulevard with a stolen vehicle investigation, said Sgt. Tony Turnbull, Sheriff’s Department spokesman.
An auto-theft task force consisting of CHP officers, sheriff’s deputies and probation officers had gone to the Ramada parking lot. Two suspects, both women, then led law enforcers on a chase about 10:30 a.m. that ended in the Laguna area of Elk Grove, where the women were taken into custody, Turnbull said.
Officers then checked on other possible suspects in a room at the Ramada Inn. When they knocked on a hotel room door, a man opened fire through the door and struck two CHP officers, Turnbull said.
Additional deputies responded to the back side of the room. A male suspect, wielding a high-powered rifle, engaged in a shootout that killed French.
The suspect jumped off the balcony and got into a car in the parking lot. He escaped on Fulton Avenue, then turned onto El Camino Avenue and crashed near Watt Avenue. He then exchanged gunfire again with officers. He was struck and arrested.
The suspect, who was in critical condition, and the officers were taken to area hospitals. The Sheriff’s Department reported Wednesday night that the suspect is a 32-year-old man from the Bay Area. His name has not been released.
The crime scene remained active Wednesday afternoon. Two officers walked through the Ramada shortly before 3 p.m., guns drawn, searching the hotel floor by floor.
Ramada guest Oneasha Martin, 23, said she woke up shortly before noon to the sound of gunshots. She came out of her room but police yelled at her to get back inside. She saw an officer taken away by ambulance.
The incident unfolded in an area near the intersection of Auburn Boulevard and Fulton Avenue that is lined with used car lots and related businesses. About a dozen police vehicles remained parked Wednesday afternoon near the arch that was erected some years ago as an effort to brand the street. Helicopters circled overhead.
Mike Ataya operates Ataya’s Motors near the Ramada. He said he was working out back when he heard a long volley of gunshots, “like a machine gun.”
“It kept going and going and it didn’t stop,” Ataya said.
Ataya said he saw a gray Challenger drive wildly down Fulton Avenue shortly after he heard the shots. “It was crashing into everything,” he said.
At Primetime Autos, a used car lot on Auburn Boulevard near the Ramada, Raj Singh said he heard “a lot of gunshots and cars driving by.”
“Then the cops came to our shop and said, ‘Stay down and keep it locked.’ ”
That was about 11:45, Singh said. He said he first heard two or three individual gunshots, then a volley of rapid fire. Afterward, he went outside, where he had employees working, to make sure they were safe. They ducked behind some cars at first, then went in and locked the doors.
Several major roadways and intersections near the shooting scene remained closed Wednesday evening, including the intersection of Fulton Avenue and Auburn Boulevard. Both the eastbound and westbound Business 80 freeway exits at Fulton Avenue also remained closed Wednesday evening.
Nearby El Camino Fundamental High School was placed in a precautionary shelter-in-place status Wednesday afternoon because of the shooting. The shelter-in-place order was later lifted, and school ended at the usual time of 2:58 p.m., according to Trent Allen, San Juan Unified School District spokesman.
Due to the closure of El Camino Avenue as part of the investigation, students were released along Eastern Avenue.
Wednesday’s triple shooting took place about five miles from the site of the former Motel 6, since razed, where Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver was fatally wounded in October 2014 as he checked on a couple sitting in a car in the motel’s parking lot.
The couple then allegedly embarked on a shooting spree that also killed Placer County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr. and wounded a third deputy. Luis Monroy Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, are awaiting trial in the case.
The Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff’s Association has established a memorial fund for Deputy French. Checks made out to “Robert French Memorial Fund” may be sent to 2843 Manlove Road, Sacramento, CA 95826. Beginning Thursday, donations may be made online at Cahpcu.org.