By JEFF BARNARD, Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A suspect in the killing of a deputy in California after a carjacking in Oregon and an attack at a tourist attraction has been linked to the case of a man who was killed before his body was found by officials responding to a fire, authorities said Thursday.
Ricardo Antonio Chaney, 32, was called a person of interest because he knew the family of 79-year-old victim George Bundy Wasson, Eugene police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said.
She said Chaney, who was later shot and killed by a police officer in California, was not considered a suspect in the death of Wasson in Oregon. McLaughlin would not divulge any details of the slaying.
Authorities responding to the fire around 12:36 a.m. Wednesday in Eugene found Wasson's body. The fire was started after Wasson was killed, according to authorities.
Wasson was an elder of the Coquille Tribe, a respected teller of tribal legends, and a retired adjunct instructor of anthropology at the University of Oregon.
"His guidance and wisdom and living his tribal values certainly set a good example for the students. That is gone now," said Gordon Bettles, steward of the Many National Longhouse at the university where Wasson held a storytelling session on Tuesday.
Wasson earned a bachelor's degree in music from the university in 1969, and a master's in education in 1971, university spokeswoman Julie Brown said. While in the master's program, he was hired as an assistant dean of students, advising students until his retirement in 1989. He earned a PhD in anthropology in 1994, and from 2001 to 2011 he held adjunct teaching posts in history and anthropology.
Chaney is suspected of carjacking two men a short time later outside their home before driving to California, where sheriff's officials say he shot and killed Mendocino County Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino before being shot and killed himself.
Police said the two carjacking victims escaped and were unharmed.
A tearful Sheriff Tom Allman told reporters during a news conference late Wednesday in Fort Bragg, Calif., near the site of the deputy's slaying, that "I wish you weren't here, and I wish I wasn't here."
The cause of the rampage still remained unclear Thursday, said Capt. Greg Van Patten as colleagues mourned one of their own. "Today is much harder than yesterday to grasp," he said.
The investigation was turned over to the Mendocino County District Attorney's office and it could take weeks before any findings are released, spokesman Mike Geniella said. Autopsies were scheduled for Friday.
The Eugene police website shows police contacted Chaney in his car late at night on March 6 after using GPS to track a stolen cellphone to the location. He was homeless and living in his car, McLaughlin said.
Chaney refused a request to search the vehicle. After he drove away, police pulled him over for traffic violations. They found he had no insurance and during a search of the vehicle, discovered several firearms, including a modified AR-15 assault-style rifle and body armor, police reported.
Chaney was arrested on suspicion of unlawful possession of a firearm and methamphetamine, and booked into Lane County Jail, where records show he was released the same day without being charged.
Jail records show Chaney was taken into custody four other times dating back to 2002 on suspicion of assault, interfering with police, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. The resolution of those cases could not be immediately determined.
The chase on Wednesday that ended with the killings began in Eugene, with the early morning theft of a black, 2006 BMW. The two occupants, men in their 20s, were leaving their house when Chaney forced them into the trunk at gunpoint, police said.
They were able to escape before the car left the parking lot, and called 911.