Three Calaveras County sheriff’s deputies and one California Highway Patrol officer opened fire and killed a suspect who appeared to point a rifle or a shotgun at them Thursday night on Mountain Ranch Road, authorities said Friday.

Later, authorities determined the object the man was holding was an air gun, not a firearm.

A witness said he could hear law officers shouting “Don't point the weapon at us!” and “Put the weapon down!” before gunfire erupted.

In a three-part press release posted online shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, the Sheriff’s Office revealed the object was an automatic air rifle manufactured overseas.

The unsigned release says the object is still a weapon, capable of firing multiple metal projectiles, and it appeared to be similar to “high powered rifles” that are also manufactured overseas. Attachments on the air gun, including a laser sight and a barrel shroud, made the air gun appear to be similar to an assault rifle, staff with the Sheriff’s Office said.

“Law enforcement officers arriving on scene would not be able to determine the type of weapon possessed by the suspect,” the release says.

Also shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, the Sheriff’s Office identified the suspect as John James Corrigan, 38, of Mountain Ranch and Chatsworth in Los Angeles County. Corrigan was a registered sex offender and convicted felon.

Staff with the Sheriff’s Office said Corrigan had a 2004 conviction for lewd or lascivious acts with a child under age 14, and he had prior arrests for offenses including rape, being under the influence of a controlled substance, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and disturbing the peace.

Staff with the Sheriff’s Office said the incident began about 9:45 p.m. when dispatchers received 911 calls about a man waving a gun and acting strangely in the road, on Mountain Ranch Road near Rocky Road, between San Andreas and the town of Mountain Ranch.

“It happened right at the base of my driveway,” Bill Simunek said in a phone interview. He’s lived there on Mountain Ranch Road since 1982. He’d just returned home from errands, and he was about to go to bed when he heard a vehicle horn honk on the road below. Then he heard another horn, and thought maybe a cow was loose.

The area is rural with individual houses and businesses stretched out on a straight section of Mountain Ranch Road that runs west-to-east from San Andreas through mixed oak woodland and chaparral, south of Murray Creek, near the 110-square-mile Butte Fire burn. There are cattle ranches further west and further east near the town of Mountain Ranch.

“I heard another horn and I looked down through the window and two more cars slowed down, they going east toward Mountain Ranch, and they were moving into the other lane,” to avoid whatever was in the road, Simunek said.

Simunek put on shoes and walked down his driveway, which goes about 300 feet down to the road. He came within 40 to 50 feet of the road and it was nearly pitch dark but he could see a shadow and he could tell it was a man.

“He was kind of incoherent, making noises, what he was saying did not make any sense,” Simunek said. “He didn't see me. I did not have a flashlight. I decided I was not going to deal with this. I went back up my driveway to call 911.”

Then a bunch of sheriff’s and highway patrol vehicles arrived. There were several law enforcement officers. In a statement distributed Friday, staff with the Sheriff’s Office said three deputies and three CHP officers arrived and saw a white man on the side of the road with “a long black object that appeared to be a rifle or long firearm.”

Simunek could hear the law officers yelling. Simunek said he went back down his driveway part way, and he heard officers commanding the man to “Put down the weapon!” and ordering him “Do not aim the weapon at us!”

Simunek said law enforcement officers kept yelling at the man. It seemed like it went on for 10 minutes but it could have been 2 or 3 minutes.

People who called 911 about the man in the road described the suspect’s gun as being either an AR-15 or shotgun. An AR-15 and its knockoffs are intended to resemble lightweight, magazine-fed, rapid-firing, semi-automatic rifles originally designed for military combat.

“I couldn't see the guy,” Simunek said. “I didn't see a weapon but it was so dark I could barely see him. When they were yelling at him, that was first indication I had that he had a weapon. If I'd known he had a weapon I'd have been up my driveway in record time. I thought he was drunk or strung out or something.”

Simunek said he later learned the man apparently lived in the house 500 feet down the road, east of his place towards Mountain Ranch. He said he didn’t know the man, that he’d never spoken to him before. In rural areas like this, it’s common for neighbors to be complete strangers.

“I can't see his property from my property, I didn't know him,” Simunek said. “At some point the law began to yell ‘Don't go to the house!’ They were afraid there were other people in there. They didn't know it was his place at that point.”

The man kept going toward the house and law enforcement officers kept yelling at him not to go there, and they kept yelling do not point the weapon at them, Simunek said.

“Several of the officers opened fire,” Simunek said. “I would guess probably somewhere around 10 shots, give or take. It lasted less than 10 seconds the firing. It was multiple weapons that fired.”

Staff with the Sheriff’s Office said the suspect was standing in an area between two homes and the long black object appeared to have a laser type sight attached to it. He pointed the object and laser toward the law enforcement officers before they opened fire.

“The subject was reportedly refusing to comply with the officers orders at the time,” staff with the Sheriff’s Office said. “In fear for their safety as well as the safety of nearby residents, law enforcement officers fired their weapons striking the subject.”

The suspect died at the scene. The name of the suspect was being withheld pending notification his family.

Three deputies and one CHP officer fired their weapons at the suspect during the shooting, Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said Friday in a phone interview. The Sheriff’s Office and the Highway Patrol back each other up on calls all the time, a matter of routine in a rural county with so much open space, DiBasilio said.

Asked if the suspect was backing up or retreating when law enforcement officers shot him, DiBasilio said he could not comment because the information is part of the investigation into the shooting.

When things seemed to quiet down at the shooting scene, Simunek walked back down to where he could be seen and talked to a deputy, who asked him questions. The deputy told him the man in the road had a rifle with a laser sight on it.

A bit later, when detectives came up to Simunek’s place to interview him, one of the detectives put a hand on his shoulder and told Simunek was very lucky he didn't take a flashlight down his driveway earlier because the man probably would have seen him.

Staff with the Sheriff’s Office did not say what time the officer involved shooting occurred, but a Calaveras County sheriff’s log showed a report of firearms discharged at 10:02 p.m. Thursday on Mountain Ranch Road.

Simunek also said the gunfire was around 10 p.m. and the whole incident lasted probably 15 minutes at the most, start to finish.

It was also not clear from the Sheriff’s Office account whether a real rifle or a real shotgun was recovered or whether the long black object was a fake gun or some other thing.

Asked if a real weapon belonging to the suspect was recovered at the shooting scene, DiBasilio said he had not had confirmation or denial. He said the alleged firearm had been described to him as an “AR-style weapon” but he emphasized he was not sure if there was a real suspect weapon located at the shooting scene or not.

Both law enforcement agencies — the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and the CHP — sent investigators, and the county District Attorney’s Office was leading the probe into circumstances of the shooting.

Mountain Ranch Road was closed for a time east of Rocky Road.

The three Calaveras County deputies who fired their weapons are on paid leave pending results of the officer-involved shooting investigation, which is routine in such incidents, DiBasilio said.

Staff with the California Highway Patrol in San Andreas referred all questions to the Sheriff’s Office. The commanding officer for CHP San Andreas is Lt. John Warren, who could not be reached for comment.

DiBasilio said even though he was informed one CHP officer fired his weapon in the shooting, he could not say if that CHP officer was now on paid leave because that officer is CHP personnel, not Sheriff’s Office personnel.

Simunek, who is 71 years old, said “nothing even close” to the shooting has happened in the 36 years he’s lived on Mountain Ranch Road.

“My feeling is the officers showed restraint,” Simunek said. “My opinion is what finally provoked them, it was when he was heading toward the house. I don't know if he turned and pointed the rifle at them again. But that's when the gunfire erupted.

“That guy wasn't cooperating,” Simunek said. “If indeed he was pointing that gun at them and they didn't fire, I think they showed a lot of restraint. I couldn't see him. I could kind of see the patrolmen and the sheriff's deputies. I knew they were at their vehicles. They had a spotlight. I'm just going by what I heard at this point. I heard them say ‘don't point the weapon at us.’ I heard it at least twice. And ‘put the weapon down’ several times.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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