ANGELUS OAKS, California (Reuters) - Rick Heltebrake was driving his pickup truck through a remote campground in the mountains east of Los Angeles on Tuesday, with his dog at his side, when a man emerged from a roadside snowbank and aimed an assault-style rifle at him.
Heltebrake, 61, pulled over and immediately recognized the hulking, armed man as the fugitive ex-cop wanted in a killing spree, Christopher Dorner, whose face had been plastered on billboards, newspapers and televisions for nearly a week.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Heltebrake recalled the man telling him in a calm, almost business-like manner. “Just get out, start walking, and take your dog.”
Heltebrake, who works as a caretaker for the Boy Scout camp where the encounter took place, Camp Tahquitz in the San Bernardino Mountains, said he couldn’t believe what was happening.
“It was surreal,” he told reporters in an impromptu news conference. “It wasn’t violent or anything. It was pretty calm.”
Heltebrake got out and started walking down the road, just as he was ordered. The armed man climbed into his silver 2008 Dodge Ram, immediately made a U-turn and sped down the road. Seconds later, Heltebrake recounted, he heard gunfire and hid behind a tree with his dog, a Dalmatian named Suni.
Heltebrake, who said he loves his dog dearly, said he was surprised that the carjacker let him take Suni.
“Maybe that was his human side,” Heltebrake said. “Maybe he had been a pet owner.”
The last he saw of his truck was news footage of it stuck in the snow. “I‘m sure it’s full of bullet holes,” he said.
Authorities say the carjacker, presumed to be Dorner, exchanged gunfire with state game wardens who gave chase after he stole Heltebrake’s pickup truck and ultimately abandoned the vehicle to seek shelter in a vacant cabin.
Another shootout followed, and the cabin ultimately went up in flames.
Human remains believed to be those of Dorner were found in the charred ruins of the cabin hours later but have yet to be positively identified.
Asked whether he thought someone owed him a new truck, Heltebrake shook his head.
“I think somebody owes me $1 million,” he said, referring to the reward posted for tips leading to Dorner’s capture. He added he would be willing to split the sum with the housekeepers who Dorner was suspected of tying up in a cabin before Tuesday’s standoff.
Reporting and writing by Brandon Lowrey; Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler