PG&E seeks state help to pay wildfire victims

Troubled utility company PG&E is asking the California Legislature to let it borrow money without paying taxes so it can compensate victims of a devastating wildfire caused by its equipment.

The utility is facing up to $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits stemming from recent wildfires, including one last year that killed 86 people and destroyed much of the town of Paradise, Calif.

The proposed bill authored by Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) would let the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank issue tax-exempt bonds on behalf of PG&E, borrowing against the company’s future profits. Shareholders would pay off the bonds, not customers. Taxpayers would not have to pay off the bonds if the shareholders default.

“Very simply, is this is a mechanism for the owners of the utility to be able to pick up 100% of the cost for their fires,” Mayes said. “It cannot be considered a bailout, there is no ratepayer money there, no government money that is there. This is 100% shareholders.”

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But the proposal has stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, where lawmakers are wary of any perception of helping the utility company blamed for starting last year’s deadly fire.

Lawmakers have about three weeks left to pass legislation before adjourning for the year. Because the bill was filed so late, it could not come up for a vote without permission from the Senate’s Democratic leadership. A spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said the Senate Rules Committee has not decided if the bill will move forward.

PG&E Chief Executive Bill Johnson was at the state Capitol on Wednesday to discuss the proposal with lawmakers. Johnson characterized the bill as “a pay up bill,” according to comments provided by the company.

“This is PG&E saying we’re accountable for this, we want to resolve these claims and we want to pay up,” he said. “So I think it ought to be viewed as the PG&E accountability bill.”

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But others view the bill as a way to protect PG&E shareholders from a proposal by Elliott Management Corp. that would give it nearly full control of the company. If lawmakers approve the proposal, it would give shareholders more leverage to resist the proposal from Elliott, a hedge fund.

Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), whose district includes the town of Paradise, said the proposal is not necessary for wildfire victims to get paid. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law earlier this year that creates a fund of up to $21 billion that will help utility companies pay out claims for future wildfires.

But to take advantage of it, PG&E would have to emerge from its bankruptcy proceedings and settle its pending lawsuits from homeowners, insurance companies and local governments by next June 30.

“I don’t think it can be denied that one of the significant motivations for PG&E is that it helps their restructuring plan,” Gallagher said. “I’m very skeptical whenever it comes to anything that PG&E is asking you for.”

Mayes said the intent was not to pick sides, but to make sure PG&E customers don’t have to pay for the wildfires started by the company’s equipment.

“If there is a bailout, it’s the owners of the company that are bailing themselves out,” Mayes said. “To me, that’s what this is all about. It makes perfect sense.”

Memorial held for CHP officer slain by gunman

Hundreds of law enforcement colleagues joined family and friends Tuesday in mourning a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer who was gunned down during a traffic stop last week.

The throng filled Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in Riverside, where Officer Andre Moye Jr.’s badge was presented to his widow, Sara.

Moye’s dreams came true when he graduated from the CHP academy in 2017 and the following year when he completed the CHP’s difficult motorcycle course, said his commander, Capt. John Tyler.

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“Andre was a hardworking motor officer, one of the highest performers in the squad, and a great beat partner,” Tyler said. “He provided a high level of service to the public and consistently took impaired drivers off the street.”

It was the second funeral for a CHP officer in the region in less than five months. Sgt. Daniel Licon, 53, was struck and killed during a traffic stop in April, and it was Moye who arrested that driver on suspicion of drunken driving.

“That was an enormous responsibility for him, but he gladly did it very humbly,” CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said.

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A private burial was to follow the memorial service.

Moye, 34, was filling out paperwork to impound Aaron Luther’s pickup truck Aug. 12 when Luther, who was outside the vehicle and not restrained, pulled out a gun and started shooting.

Moye was fatally wounded but called for help. Two responding officers were shot in the legs while frightened motorists ducked for cover from dozens of flying bullets. Luther, 49, was killed. The wounded officers were expected to recover.

Luther was paroled from state prison in 2004 after serving about 10 years of a 12-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder with an enhancement for the use of a firearm, first-degree burglary and second-degree burglary, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Court records show Luther also was arrested in 2007 on felony assault charges and took a no-contest plea deal that sentenced him to 90 days in jail. He also was charged with multiple felonies in San Bernardino County and pleaded no contest in 2010 to assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Southern California News Group.

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As a felon, Luther was not supposed to have a gun.

Burned body found in dry lake bed in Joshua Tree

A burned body was found last week in a dry lake bed in Joshua Tree.

A caller contacted authorities Friday after discovering the body in a dry lake bed near Sunway Road and Rosehedge Avenue.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives are working to identify the man as well as find any witnesses.

No further details were available Monday.

Trump is stripping immigrant children of protections, critics say. Supporters say he’s closing loopholes

In the nearly four years since Alexis arrived alone in the United States as a 17-year-old from El Salvador, he has been granted asylum, learned English, secured a job at a bakery and studied for his upcoming driver’s license exam. This month he’ll file an application for permanent residency.

Now 21, Alexis feared being targeted by gangs in El Salvador that had beat up his sister and killed boys in his neighborhood for refusing to join. Living with his aunt and uncle in south Los Angeles, Alexis finally feels safe.

None of that would have been possible if Alexis were applying for asylum now. Recent significant changes by the Trump administration to asylum policy for children who arrived in the U.S. without a parent or legal guardian mean that he wouldn’t qualify.

“When I decided to come to the United States, that was a risk of my life,” he said. “They should help us more than they are trying to right now. We are humans as well. We have rights.”

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The policy shift is the latest in a string of reversals by the administration in protections for immigrant children, who have been the most prominent collateral damage in its crackdown on migrants at the southern border. As the overarching flow of migration has gradually shifted from mostly single men coming from Mexico to entire families coming from Central America, images of children being torn from their parents and held in cages have shocked the world and outraged not only immigrant rights groups and progressive voters but also many who otherwise back Trump’s policies.

Administration supporters argue that child migrants often are used, both by family members and strangers, in an exploitative way as cover for illegal activity.

David Inserra, immigration policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the challenge is how to make humanitarian programs like asylum help persecuted people but prevent others from abusing the help.

Too many loopholes incentivize people to bring or send their children to the U.S., Inserra said. He said the 1997 Flores Act, which limited the amount of time that children can be held in captivity, and the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which allows unaccompanied children to seek asylum in an interview with a trained asylum officer, had unintended consequences and that the administration is doing what it can to fix those problems, given Congress’ inability to enact necessary reforms, he added.

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“I think we all want to protect children, to make sure that they’re treated well,” Inserra said. “But I think we also need to do everything in our power to make sure there aren’t as many children coming to our border.”

The changes to asylum for unaccompanied children come as the federal government struggles with the arrival of thousands of Central Americans at the southern border. With more than 760,000 people apprehended by Border Patrol as of July — already a 92% increase over last year with two months left in fiscal 2019 — immigration authorities say they’re overwhelmed by the surge. Monthly totals have decreased significantly since May, which DHS credits to stepped up enforcement by the governments of Mexico and Guatemala.

Trump’s new policy on unaccompanied minors is an extension of his strategy to make asylum more difficult for practically anyone to obtain. The administration adopted a controversial policy last month forcing thousands of asylum seekers, including children, to live in Mexico while waiting for immigration court hearings. Last month, a federal judge in California temporarily blocked a broader rule that rendered asylum seekers at the U.S. border ineligible for protection if they passed through any other country and did not make claims there.

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, most recently reauthorized in 2013, children also are not subject to the one-year filing deadline for adult asylum seekers. The new policy makes it far easier to strip young migrants of their “unaccompanied” status, which affords them a measure of legal protection, making them more likely to be deported.

It requires asylum officers with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reestablish that an applicant who was previously determined to be unaccompanied continued as such when filing for asylum. Applicants who file after they turn 18 or after they reunite with a parent or legal guardian must now raise their claims in immigration court.

The policy applies to all USCIS decisions after June 30. Anyone affected by the new policy who filed for asylum after being in the U.S. for more than a year is now ineligible.

Last month, lawyers with Public Counsel, KIND, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and the law firm Goodwin Procter sued to block the Trump administration from continuing to enforce the new policy, alleging that it violates the Constitution and the TVPRA. Lawyers said they’d already heard of numerous asylum denials based on the policy.

Earlier this month, a U.S. district judge in Maryland halted the policy from continuing and ordered the government to “retract any adverse decision already rendered in an individual case” under the new rules and reinstate the previous rules for asylum seekers.

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KIND President Wendy Young said that advocates spent decades building protections into law that accommodate the needs and vulnerabilities of immigrant children.

“What’s taken us 15 years to build is taking them two years to tear down,” she said. “Now we’re in a completely different political landscape, where they’re trying to pull us backwards in time and treat these children like adults again.”

Even so, Young said that the public outrage to the family separation policy last summer gave her hope.

“That was a strong reminder that people still care,” she said. “Particularly when these measures impact children, it awakens something in us as people.”

Scott Shuchart, legal strategy director at KIND, said that processing a child’s asylum claim poses a number of challenges beyond those facing adults. Trauma could impair a young person’s ability to promptly file for asylum, he said. And it could be weeks before they’re released from government custody and their sponsor or family finds a lawyer.

After clearing those hurdles, the child could require therapy before they’re ready to address what happened to them.

“There are reasons you do things different for children,” said Shuchart, a former DHS official who resigned last year over the administration’s migrant family separation policy. “They are dependent on an adult being available and competent enough to do things for them.”

Shuchart said he’s also overseen many cases in which adults in a child’s life protected them from knowing the real reasons behind atrocities that had happened to their family, causing lawyers to spend extra time finding an adult who could provide the details needed to build an accurate case after the child arrived in the U.S. unaccompanied.

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“How could you treat those cases the same way you treat the case of an adult who says, ‘I’m here to request asylum because X, Y and Z’?” he said.

A spokeswoman said it is USCIS policy not to comment on pending litigation. But in a previous interview with The Times, spokeswoman Jessica Collins said that “Congress must reform the law to address the underlying issues fueling the border crisis and encouraging unaccompanied minors to make the dangerous journey to the United States.”

Other attempts by the administration to rewrite the laws and overturn international norms governing the treatment of migrant children have led to intense court fights. Last September, the administration filed new proposed rules that would allow migrant children to be held indefinitely by relaxing the licensing requirements of facilities in which children can be detained. In November, lawyers moved to stop the rules from taking effect.

The government blames its disastrous family separation policy — which resulted in an outpouring of public anger and media criticism after thousands of children were removed from their parents — on the Flores agreement. The administration argues that the settlement puts it in a bind because no existing family detention centers meet the restrictive requirements for the treatment of minors, which forces authorities to release children while keeping their parents in custody.

Another bitterly divisive child-migrant policy was Trump’s move during his first year in office to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides immigrants as young as 15, the so-called Dreamers, with temporary protection from deportation. In response to lawsuits, two U.S. district courts halted the program’s termination and required USCIS to continue accepting renewal applications from DACA recipients while the lawsuits continue. Last month, the Supreme Court said it will take up the case.

In 2017, the administration abruptly ended the Central American Minors program, which allowed immigrants who were lawfully present in the U.S. to apply for refugee status or humanitarian parole on behalf of their children younger than 21, as well as for their spouses and grandchildren living in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. In announcing the termination, DHS said the “discretionary change in policy” doesn’t prevent those people from otherwise applying for temporary parole, which is generally issued on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons.

After advocates sued, a federal judge ordered the government to continue processing applications for more than 2,700 people who had already been approved by USCIS to relocate to the U.S. and were left in limbo.

Changes early last year to yet another program, called special immigrant juvenile status, affected young immigrants who were abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent. The classification, available by law to immigrants under age 21, allowed them to embark on a path to U.S. citizenship. The administration started rejecting applications from immigrants over age 18, saying it is adhering to laws in most states that set adulthood at age 18.

Advocates in California, Washington, New Jersey and New York sued over the denials. In California, a federal judge temporarily banned the government from trying to deport any applicants while the lawsuit continues. In New York, a judge found the government had violated federal law and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to reopen all petitions by applicants over 18.

John Sandweg, former acting director of USCIS and acting general counsel of DHS under Obama, said that stripping children of protections doesn’t deter people from coming. Sandweg said it could take ICE and Customs and Border Protection decades to recover from the negative reputation that the agencies have been hit with as a result of this administration’s policies. He said it has hurt recruiting, morale and the agencies’ ability to work with local law enforcement.

Sandweg said existing protections “were put in place for good reason.”

“When the numbers are elevated like they are right now, I think the need to have these safeguards is even more acute,” he added. “There’s just more opportunity to have harm come a child’s way.”

Many other countries have laws in place to protect migrant children. In Canada, for instance, children are detained “only as a measure of last resort.” In Italy, children are appointed voluntary guardians who support them with legal paperwork and other needs.

Numbers of arriving unaccompanied children reached a peak of 59,000 in fiscal year 2016, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Between October and July, 55,000 unaccompanied children were released from ORR care, more than a third of them age 17. Nearly half of those children went home with a parent or legal guardian.

Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, liberal-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank, said that there’s always been some ambiguity around the definition of an unaccompanied child. By law, unaccompanied children are under age 18, have no legal status, and no parent or legal guardian available in the U.S. to care for them.

Greenberg worked for the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees ORR, until 2017. He said leaders would sometimes question whether children who arrived at the border alone but reunited with parents should be regarded as unaccompanied. But he said the conversation always fizzled quickly.

“We very much saw the mission of the program as being to provide services and supports to arriving children and to help them get to their families,” he said.

Many child migrants arriving in the future won’t be afforded the same consideration.

Alexis turned 18 a week after he arrived at the Texas border. Once he was released to the care of his aunt and uncle, he went down a list of pro-bono immigration lawyers given to him at the shelter where he’d been processed. Public Counsel agreed to represent him.

When he appeared at immigration court to deliver a letter that his lawyers had written, the setting — adults in suits and a judge in a robe — made him nervous. He worried he’d say something wrong, even though he wasn’t on trial.

Later, sitting before an asylum officer, he felt much more at ease. The officer spoke Spanish and talked to him in a soft, friendly voice.

When Alexis received notice that his asylum petition had been approved, he wept for joy, he said. Since then, he’s tried to take advantage of everything he can. He plans to enroll in community college and hopes to one day become a nurse.

“It’s really sad to know that others won’t have the opportunity I had,” he said.

CicLAvia heads to Hollywood for daylong open-street festival

Motorists may want to steer clear of Hollywood and West Hollywood’s main streets on Sunday.

Thousands of bicyclists, skaters and pedestrians are expected to take over Santa Monica and Hollywood boulevards and Highland Avenue as part of the latest installment of the CicLAvia open-street festival.

Stretches of the busy roadways will be closed to vehicle traffic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. as part of the free event, which encourages people to abandon their cars for the day and explore the city in new ways, organizers said.

The opening ceremony kicks off at 8:30 a.m. at Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards. Featured speakers include West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

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The popular festival was inspired by ciclovia events that started 40 years ago in Bogota, Colombia, as a way to promote community, exercise and a healthier environment.

How much did L.A. test scores improve over the last year? Beutner touts ‘real progress’

Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner touted gains in student achievement, rising graduation rates and lower absenteeism as “real progress” and evidence that the nation’s second-largest school district is making strides in his annual State of the Schools speech Thursday.

A gain of 1.6 percentage points over the previous school year on state tests in English and 1.9 percentage points in math represent an upward pace that some experts regard as realistic and even commendable if they can be sustained over the long term. Graduation rates increased just under 1 percentage point and absenteeism is down by half a percentage point. In the biggest jump, 80% of high school juniors took the SAT college admissions test, up from 44% a year ago, thanks to the district providing free testing during the school day.

“By traditional standards, we’d say it was an extraordinary year,” Beutner said in an interview before the speech. “Everything that we wanted to see go up, went up. Everything we wanted to see be reduced was reduced.”

Some education activists and groups, however, consider such incremental climbs far too small and do not address the large achievement gaps separating white and Asian students from Latino and black students.

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“At this rate of improvement, the children now in kindergarten will be 65 years old before every kid in Los Angeles can read,” said Seth Litt, executive director of the local advocacy group Parent Revolution, which recruits parents on behalf of causes it supports. “Are we OK to live in a city where poor children, where black children, where Latinx children do not have a chance of success?

“It looks like the superintendent has become a true believer in incrementalism,” Litt said.

In his address, Beutner insisted the data show that “because of the dedication and hard work of those in this room and our 60,000 colleagues, we’re truly making real progress.” He spoke before an audience of nearly 2,000 that was mostly administrators, but also included invited guests and dignitaries.

The district’s biggest problem he said, is insufficient funding, a theme he has returned to repeatedly. And this shortfall, Beutner said, directly affected all areas in which the district needs to be much better.

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He noted that 56% of students still fall below proficiency in English; 67% in math. Only about 10% of students from low-income families are proficient in both English and math. And of 100 students who enter ninth grade, only 12 will graduate from college.

Other areas also showed incremental progress.

Suspension rates continued to go down, but the big drop was in previous years. The same holds true for the preliminary graduation rate increase from 77.3% to 78.1%, with the biggest leaps in earlier years. And underlying questions remain about both statistics. Many teachers and some principals complain about discipline issues arising from the drop in suspensions. Also, the district has never deeply examined questions that arose about the rigor of credit recovery courses that propelled graduation rates.

Chronic absenteeism is down, but this was essentially the drop from an upward spike of the previous year: In the first semester of 2016, 12.7% of students were absent about 16 days or more. The following year the number rose to 13.2%. Last year, it was back to the same 16 level of 12.7%.

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S ome philanthropists and civic leaders hailed the May 2018 hiring of Beutner, a businessman with no experience running a school or school district. He was widely regarded as a member of their tribe in school reform, someone willing to make tough and monumental decisions against status quo interest groups.

That hasn’t happened yet, said Fred Ali, president and chief executive of the Weingart Foundation, which contributed to a $3-million fund that Beutner used to tap outside expertise.

“I know there has been a lot of work that has been done and I’m hopeful that some of that work will result in some change,” Ali said.

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Beutner’s relatively short tenure has included the rare challenge of managing a six-day teachers’ strike, for which he received mixed reviews.

On Thursday, Beutner warned against magic-bullet solutions.

“L.A. Unified is a complex organization,” he told administrators. For students, families, teachers and principals, “disruption is not what they need. They need stability and continuity. … Dramatic plans have not worked elsewhere and they will not work in L.A. Unified.”

He added: “Our schools should not be test kitchens with the recipe changing every 24 months.”

In that tone, Beutner sounded a lot like recent Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who retired in 2015. Cortines was widely regarded as a capable administrator, but was criticized by some reform advocates as “not moving fast enough.”

Beutner said the mission ahead was like the war on poverty or the goal of putting a man on the moon — people needed to be in it for the long haul.

“It is time for our moonshot in public education,” Beutner said. “There will be doubters just as there were in the 1960s.”

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Josemie Jackson, the administrator of two early-education centers in San Pedro, was struck by the moonshot reference. If man can reach the moon, she said, “then we can make it: helping students be self-sufficient, to go to college, to their career, to be citizens in this society.”

She and other administrators also support Beutner’s emphasis on cutting down on bureaucratic mandates and paper-pushing that take away from their time with students and teachers.

Beutner did not lay out a specific plan or goal as his moonshot, but he’s embraced a decentralization plan that is supposed to bring decisions and resources closer to schools and make it easier for parents to be involved.

Such local control is strongly supported by school board President Richard Vladovic, whose vote was key in hiring Beutner and whose support remains crucial to Beutner keeping his job.

Beutner’s emphasis on vastly improved funding aligns closel y with the thinking of board member Jackie Goldberg. She won a special election to fill a vacant board seat and is expected to exert an outsized influence on the board.

After the address, board member Scott Schmerelson praised the recognition of funding needs, but “what I did not hear was a plan for generating the additional resources and support that our children need and deserve.”

It didn’t come up Thursday, but Beutner is skeptical about another district plan currently in its final stages of development: a system to rate schools on a scale of 1 to 5. That effort is strongly supported by board member Nick Melvoin. Melvoin was part of a narrow board majority elected with substantial financial backing from advocates for charter schools.

Melvoin’s priorities extend well beyond supporting charter schools, but he is generally associated with those pushing for more rapid change. Melvoin was among those who had pressed for hiring Beutner, but his influence has waned somewhat with Goldberg’s election in May.

In contrast, Goldberg’s arrival means that unions representing teachers and administrators are likely to have a louder voice. Goldberg was greeted enthusiastically when board members were introduced Thursday.

Board member Monica Garcia said she felt Beutner hit the mark.

“His desire to remove obstacles and support the leaders of our schools was evident and focused,” Garcia said.

Two men dead and one wounded in shooting in South L.A.

Two men were killed and another wounded in a shooting Wednesday evening in South Los Angeles.

The shooting occurred about 7 p.m. in the 1100 block of 68th Street.

One man died at the scene and two others were taken to a hospital, where one of the men was pronounced dead. The condition of the other man was unknown.

Investigators have not released additional details.

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A family member told KTLA that one of the men killed was a physics doctoral student at UC Irvine and had hoped to work for NASA.

Teenage girl shot and killed in Lancaster

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies believe that a teenage girl was shot and killed by her older brother Tuesday afternoon at their home in Lancaster.

About 5:30 p.m., deputies received a call to respond to the 1700 block of West Avenue J15.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Biddle said initial reports were that 18-year-old Eddie Alvirez shot his sister inside the bedroom he shares with her and another younger sibling.

“He was in possession of a handgun in the bedroom, and at one point, he pointed a handgun at one of his sisters, and his sister was shot,” Biddle said.

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The 13-year-old girl was taken to Antelope Valley Hospital where she was pronounced dead, a deputy told KTLA.

Biddle said detectives are interviewing the family to determine whether the shooting was an accident.

Alvirez fled on foot with the gun, Biddle said.

“We just hope Eddie doesn’t hurt anybody else or hurt himself,” Biddle said. “We’re hopeful he will come and talk to us, or let us come and talk to him, or go to a sheriff’s station. His family has suffered enough tragedy.”

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Wild shootout near 215 Freeway in Riverside leaves CHP officer and gunman dead

A California Highway Patrol officer was killed and two other officers were wounded in a wild shootout Monday evening off the 215 Freeway in Riverside that also left the gunman dead and motorists dodging bullets.

One of the wounded CHP officers was in critical condition Monday night while the other officer suffered minor injuries. The suspect, who has not been identified, was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

According to initial reports from law enforcement at the scene, a CHP motorcycle officer stopped the driver for an unknown offense.

The suspect is believed to have opened fire on the officer after reaching into his truck and pulling out a rifle after his vehicle was impounded, according to initial reports. It is unclear why the vehicle was being impounded.

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The officer returned fire, and the two other CHP officers soon arrived and engaged the suspect in a gun battle. Law enforcement officers from local agencies also arrived to help.

Dozens of rounds were fired at the scene, according to law enforcement.

It is unknown whose gunfire killed the suspect; that will be determined by the Riverside County coroner, according to officials.

Several sources said the suspect was still up and shooting when county sheriff’s deputies and a Riverside police officer arrived.

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“We don’t know why,” Riverside police spokesman Ryan Railsback said of the gunman’s motive. “That is all going to be part of this lengthy investigation.”

“Please say some prayers for the CHP officers involved,” wrote state Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) on Twitter.

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Officers investigate the scene where one CHP officer was killed during a traffic stop near Box Springs Road Monday in Riverside County. The gunman’s white vehicle is top left.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Jennifer Moctezuma, 31, of Moreno Valley was driving home with her 6-year-old twins when a bullet flew through her front windshield.

Retired Marine Charles Childress, 56, also of Moreno Valley, was in the car behind them when he heard gunfire and saw the bullet that went through Moctezuma’s windshield.

He then heard the children screaming and knew he had to get the family out of the car in front of him.

“I was 21 years in the Marine Corps, and my training just kicked in,” Childress said.

Childress led Moctezuma and her two children, all of whom were unharmed, as they crawled down to the bottom of the bridge away from the gunfire.

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“He’s my hero,” Moctezuma said. “He’s my hero.”

A California Highway Patrol dispatcher said the department responded to reports of gunfire but could not provide details. A Riverside County Fire Department dispatcher said the agency was requested to respond to Box Springs Boulevard and Eastridge Avenue.

CHP cruisers, fire engines and ambulances were on the 215 Freeway at Box Springs.

The freeway was closed, and Caltrans urged people to avoid the area. Metrolink said that the tracks near the incident had been shut down and that trains had been diverted.