California 'ambush' suspect dead after shootouts with police in Paso Robles; 3 officers injured

Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY
·3 min read
Police officers talk to a man on Thursday along U.S.Highway 101 in Paso Robles, Calif., as part of a full-scale investigation into the shooting of a sheriff's deputy early Wednesday.
Police officers talk to a man on Thursday along U.S.Highway 101 in Paso Robles, Calif., as part of a full-scale investigation into the shooting of a sheriff's deputy early Wednesday.

A man suspected of shooting a California deputy in the head during an "ambush" attack was killed Thursday following separate shootouts that injured officers from three agencies, police said.

Mason James Lira, a 26-year-old transient man who has battled a long history of mental illness, according to this family, was identified by law enforcement late Wednesday and authorities' search for him ended in a riverbed in the central California city of Paso Robles, about 200 northwest of Los Angeles.

An Arroyo Grande police officer helping with the search was wounded when Lira engaged in a shootout about 3 p.m., police said.

This still image taken from a surveillance camera and provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office seeking the public's assistance in finding a suspect believed to be responsible for a shooting on Wednesday in Paso Robles, Calif.
This still image taken from a surveillance camera and provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office seeking the public's assistance in finding a suspect believed to be responsible for a shooting on Wednesday in Paso Robles, Calif.

When additional officers arrived at the scene, Lira again opened fire, wounding two of them, before he was shot while attempting to escape the riverbed toward the U.S. 101 highway, according to press release from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The three injured officers were "in good condition," San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at a press conference on Thursday night.

Lira had been at-large since he allegedly shot at the police station in Paso Robles around 3:45 a.m. Wednesday and killed a 58-year-old transient man while eluding law enforcement.

Lira was arrested in late May for making terrorist threats in Monterey, California, Paso Robles Police Chief Ty Lewis said Thursday night, but authorities have not determined a motive for Wednesday's shooting.

But, Lewis said he believed it was a safe assumption that "homicide was on [Lira's] mind."

Lira was in possession of two handguns believed to have been stolen in a commercial burglary in San Luis Obispo this month, according to the press release.

Parkinson described Lira's actions as "the sign of being a coward," adding he is concerned Lira's motivation could be tied to the country's recent "fairly anti-law enforcement environment."

Lira's father told a different story earlier in the day. His son was mentally ill and had lived on the streets for many years, Jose Lira told the Visalia Times Delta of the USA TODAY Network. He'd been in and out of jail and mental health facilities most of his adult life, the father said.

"With his mental health illness, he doesn't want to be in a room or house, he wanted to be on the streets," he told the Visalia newspaper.

The deputy injured in what Parkinson called a "tactical ambush" attack, Nicholas Dreyfus, 28, underwent "successful" surgery, according to police.

“He is listed in guarded condition and his prognosis is good,” a sheriff’s statement said Thursday, adding that the deputy’s wife and family were with him.

Officers and sheriff's deputies from multiple agencies — including the FBI and regional SWAT team members — searched for Lira, eventually securing a perimeter around the town's riverbed, which Lewis described as "long and large" during the press conference.

The case of his son is a sad reminder of the Golden State's struggle against mental health, Jose Lira said.

"The mental health here is useless, actually everywhere in California," he said. "You can't force the mentally ill to take (medication)."

"There are hundreds of Masons on our streets."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California 'ambush' suspect dead after police shootout