Suspect identified who opened fire on California sheriff's deputies before dying in chase

Four sheriff's deputies were injured, one critically, in the incident.

March 6, 2024, 10:21 AM

The suspect who crashed and died in a Northern California police chase this week has been identified as a 53-year-old man authorities allege opened fire on sheriff's deputies on multiple occasions with an AK-47-style rifle during the pursuit.

Four Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies were injured, one critically, in a running gunfight early Monday with the suspect, Jose Luis Villasenor Cervantes, near Santa Rosa, about 55 miles north of San Francisco, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department.

The shootout unfolded just after midnight Monday when a deputy was called to investigate a report of a man wielding a rifle in an unincorporated area near Santa Rosa, according to police. Upon arrival, the deputy spotted a man sitting in a white sedan and as he approached the car, gunfire erupted, police said.

"Cervantes exited his vehicle and immediately began firing at the deputy. The deputy was able to return fire. Additional deputies responded to the area and were also immediately fired upon by Cervantes, It is estimated that Cervantes fired numerous 7.62x39mm rifle rounds at the deputies before returning to his vehicle and engaging the deputies in a vehicle pursuit," Sgt. Patricia Seffens, a Santa Rosa Police Department spokesperson, said in a statement.

The suspect died after crashing his vehicle in a residential area, according to the police.

"During the pursuit, the suspect stopped, fired shots at the deputies, and continued the pursuit. Deputies returned fire and, ultimately, the suspect crashed the vehicle he was driving," the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said in a statement released Monday.

Cervantes of Santa Rosa was pronounced dead at the scene, but the cause of his death has not yet been determined by the Sonoma County Coroner's Office, police said. A motive for the shooting remains under investigation.

One of the deputies involved in the incident suffered a head injury and was taken to a hospital in critical but stable condition, according to the sheriff's office. Another deputy suffered a bullet wound to the leg, and two others sustained unspecified injuries to their hands, the sheriff's office said. The names of the injured deputies were not immediately released.

Deputy Rob Dillion, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office, told ABC News on Monday that investigators were examining multiple crime scenes. Dillion said the suspect stopped his car several times during the chase to open fire on the pursuing deputies.

Dillion said there are a minimum of two crime scenes investigators combed for evidence, but said there could be a total of three or four crime scenes over what he described as a "wide area."

Other than the one deputy who was shot in the leg, Dillion said it remains unclear how the other deputies were injured.

"We're not sure at this point mainly because it could have been glass as bullets struck glass and shattered it or fragments of bullets that were fired at them," Dillion said, adding of the suspect, "He fired at police more than once."

The Santa Rosa Police Department was assigned to investigate the incident after the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office invoked a critical incident protocol for officer-involved shooting.

The sheriff's department said the chase and gunfight were captured on body-worn cameras the deputies were equipped with. The footage is expected to be made public at some point in keeping with state law, according to the sheriff's department.