EUGENE, Ore. -- The man suspected of a crime spree last week that left a Northern California sheriff's deputy dead had been jailed in Oregon two weeks earlier but was released for lack of evidence and manpower in the local district attorney's office.
Authorities believe Ricardo Antonio Chaney killed a man in Eugene, Ore., last Wednesday, carjacked a vehicle and drove to Mendocino County, where he fatally shot Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino in the tiny community of Cleone before being killed in a shootout with a Fort Bragg police officer.
Del Fiorentino's memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday.
Chaney, 32, had been arrested March 6 by Eugene police, who suspected he had a stolen cellphone and stopped his car for traffic violations. They found several guns in the vehicle, including a rifle that appeared to be illegally modified. They also found body armor and methamphetamine. Chaney was released the same day.
”The March 6 charges against Chaney were not filed because they fell below the current triage standards and involved no violence or threat of violence,” Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner said in a statement.
Prosecutors were not ready to charge him with a firearms crime because the modified weapon had been sent to an Oregon State Police crime lab for further testing.
Officials in the district attorney's office repeated last week that they do not have funding to employ enough prosecutors to pursue the simplest drug possession cases, The Register-Guard reported.
Police believe Chaney likely shot George Bundy Wasson, 79, a retired University of Oregon anthropology instructor and Coquille Tribe elder. His body was found in his burning house. Chaney knew Wasson's family, said Eugene police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin.
Less than an hour after the fire was discovered, police say Chaney forced two men into the trunk of their BMW. The men held up outside their home managed to escape in a parking lot and called 911.
About 10 hours after the carjacking, Chaney exchanged gunfire with a worker at a California tourist attraction along U.S. Highway 101 near Piercy.
A Mendocino County Sheriff's Office deputy spotted him about an hour later but he got away during a chase that reached speeds of more than 100 mph. Chaney encountered Del Fiorentino along a rural road and sprayed the deputy's car with rifle bullets, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.
Fort Bragg police Lt. John Naulty, who was searching for Chaney nearby, heard the gunfire and found Chaney going through the deputy's vehicle, the sheriff said. Chaney fired six or seven rounds at Naulty, who returned fire, Allman said. Chaney was later found dead.
The investigation has been turned over to the Mendocino County district attorney's office.