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Sheriff: No intent to burn down cabin to get Dorner

8:17 PM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
Fired Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Christopher Dorner seen in an undated photo wearing a military uniform on display at a press conference regarding the manhunt for Dorner, at LADP headquarters in Los Angeles February 7, 2013.
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(USA TODAY) -- Deputies did not intentionally burn down the Southern California mountain cabin where fugitive cop killer Christopher Dorner apparently made his deadly last stand Tuesday, the San Bernardino County sheriff said Wednesday.

"We did not intend to burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner to come out," Sheriff John McMahon said at an afternoon news conference.

He said deputies initially fired "cold" tear gas into the cabin newar Big Bear Lake, then switched to "pyrotechnic-type" rounds" known as "burners."

He said authorities have strong evidence that the man deputies tracked to a cabin in a ski resort looked and behaved like Dorner. And though he still could not "absolutely, positively confirm" that the charred body found inside was Dorners, the sheriff said the coroner would likely made the determination "soon."

"We believe the investigation is over at this point," McMahon said

It was also revealed that during the manhunt deputies had knocked on the door of the cabin but moved on when they got no answer.

They do not believe Dorner was in the cabin, which showed no signs of forced entry and had not been rented since Feb. 6.

The fiery conclusion to a violent standoff in the San Bernardino Mountains was no cause for celebration to police officers working the case, Los Angeles Police Lt. Andy Neiman said earlier Wednesday.

"It was horrifying to listen to that firefight, to hear those words 'officer down,' " Neiman said.

Two San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were shot, one fatally, before fire engulfed the cabin where 33-year-old Christopher Dorner apparently made his last stand.

The sheriff's office said charred human remains were found in the rubble.

"We have reason to believe that it is (Dorner)," sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said.

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A wallet with a California driver's license bearing the name Christopher Dorner also was found, the Associated Press reported, citing a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but declined to be named because of the ongoing probe.

Bachman said forensic tests would be carried out to confirm the identification.

"Our deepest sympathy to the families" of the deputies who were shot, Neiman said.

The Inland Empire Emerald Society, a charity for families of fallen officers, has identified the slain deputy as 35-year-old Detective Jeremiah MacKay, of Redlands, a 15-year department veteran, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported Wednesday. McMahon confirmed MacKay's death at the news conference.

The other deputy who was shot was identified as Alex Collins, who has undergone multiple surgeries and will require more, McMahon said.

"He's in good spirits and should make a full recovery after a number of additional surgeries," he added.

MacKay's death was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what his Facebook manifesto linked to a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the police department in 2009.

The victims include Riverside Officer Michael Crain, 34, who was fatally shot a week ago as he sat in his police cruiser. On Wednesday, thousands of people gathered for Crain's funeral.

Neiman said that investigations will continue at least until Dorner's body is positively identified. LAPD, which had been on high alert since Dorner began his rampage, has returned to normal operations, Neiman said.

Still, police will continue to protect dozens of officers and others Dorner threatened in his rambling manifesto, Neiman said.

"The task force is still in place, and they will work until there's nothing left to be done," he said. "We don't just stop a murder case simply because we think that the suspect in that case" is dead.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said it was "highly likely" that Dorner had been inside when authorities heard a single gunshot and saw the cabin burning in Seven Oaks, a small mountain community about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside of the cabin as part of a "tactical operation" and were tearing down its walls to flush out Dorner, who had reportedly been driven back inside by police when he tried to flee out the back.

Police have not explained what started the fire in the cabin. Officers had thrown tear gas canisters into the cabin and shouted to Dorner to surrender. Gil Torrez, a retired FBI hostage negotiator, says it's unlikely that police would have deliberately burned down the house. But a canister of tear gas or another agent could have ignited something else, he said.

Police said Dorner had been holed up since last Thursday in a different cabin - 20 to 30 yards from the site where news media gathered and received sheriff's briefings daily on the massive manhunt after Dorner's burned truck was found earlier that day.

Dorner was discovered Tuesday by two cleaning women who entered the cabin. Lt. Patrick Foy, with the California Fish and Wildlife Department, said Dorner tied them up with plastic zip ties and left in their car, wrecked it, then stole a truck from a male driver.

Rick Heltebrake, the camp manager whose truck was commandeered by Dorner on Tuesday, said Wednesday that he was exhausted. He said he was taking calls from media and well-wishers all night and never got a break after his harrowing experience.

"We just want to go on from here," Heltebrake said as he came by a police checkpoint in Angelus Oaks.

He described his encounter with the fugitive as if it were a business transaction. A terrifying moment? "I didn't feel like it was. He said he didn't want to hurt me and I believed him," he said.

"There was no panic," Heltebrake said. "I got a little freaked when I heard the gunfire."

Dorner was dressed in military-style camouflage and was toting only one weapon, an military-style rifle. The victim, who runs a camp for Boy Scouts of America, says he didn't get a good look at it because it was pointed right at him.

He added that Dorner did not look disheveled, unshaven or like a man whom might\ have been hold up under difficult conditions for a week.

He is grateful, in fact, that Doerner let him take his beloved 3-year-old Dalmation, Suni, when he bailed from his truck.

"That was a little bit of compassion," he said.

Helterbrake siad he then dove into a snowbank and hit behind a tree when he heard the gunfire moments later. He didn't know California game wardens were right behind Dorner.

In all, he said, the encounter lasted about 10 seconds.

After exchanging gunfire with officers, Dorner ran into the woods and broke into the cabin. As SWAT closed in, a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames. As the fire grew, more gunshots were heard - apparently ammunition ignited by the fire, authorities said.

Authorities let the cabin burn.

"We won't allow them (firefighters) to get close to the cabin,'' said sheriff's spokeswoman Bachman. "It's just not safe.''

Dorner previously was charged with killing Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain and was the prime suspect in the murders of Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, on Feb. 3. She was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain whom Dorner blamed for his firing after reporting alleged abuse by another officer. Randal Quan represented Dorner during his termination hearing.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had called Dorner "a domestic terrorist," and a $1 million reward, raised from public and private sources, was offered. Police received more than 1,000 tips.

Neiman said it was not clear who, if anyone, might claim the reward if the body in the cabin turns out to be that of Dorner.

Contributing: Michael Winter; Chris Woodyard

Donna Leinwand Leger, John Bacon and William M. Welch, USA TODAY

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