Armed Guerneville man shot, killed by Sonoma County sheriff's deputies
Published: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 7:24 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.
A man armed with what authorities said was a high-powered rifle was fatally shot outside his home early Tuesday after he exited the house and opened fire on deputies, ending an hourlong standoff, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
Wayne A. Courtright, 58, reportedly had threatened to kill his wife and was intoxicated, suicidal and armed with a rifle in the period leading up to the midnight shootout, his wife told law enforcement personnel, officials said.
Courtright, described by a former employer as extremely mild-mannered and conscientious, was also a bit of a loner, according to Albert Kass, who owns the Riverlane Resort where the shooting occurred.
His is the second deputy-involved shooting death in four weeks, though the circumstances are distinctly different from those involved in the high-profile death of a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy last month.
Sheriff's officials said the Guerneville incident unfolded when Courtright's wife, the manager of the Riverlane Resort at First and Church streets in downtown Guerneville, called a sheriff's dispatcher around 11 p.m. Monday to report that her husband had threatened her.
The woman, identified by the owner of the resort and others as Benita Courtright, was instructed to leave the house immediately, sheriff's officials said.
Within a minute, she and her 30-year-old daughter, who resides with them, had run to the River Substation run by the sheriff's office just across Church Street from the resort, officials said.
Sheriff's deputies in turn began surrounding the resort, which includes the main house occupied by the Courtrights and 12 cabin rentals, according to owner Albert Kass.
Within minutes, deputies heard gunshots fired inside the house, authorities said.
The department's SWAT team and a hostage negotiator were called. They swarmed the area before Courtright reportedly came out and began firing at deputies, who returned fire, fatally wounding him, the sheriff's office said.
An ambulance crew that had been waiting nearby provided medical aid, to no avail. Courtright died at the scene, authorities said.
It was unclear how many times he was shot, and officials said they were uncertain whether Courtright had any self-inflicted wounds.
Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said he was relieved the two women were unhurt and that no deputies were hurt.
“Any loss of life is a tragedy, and I feel awful for the ladies,” he said.
The shooting and large law enforcement response awakened half the town, said local residents, including several who recalled several isolated shots preceding a barrage of gunfire.
“There was a series of single shots, and then it started escalating to rapid fire," said David Irish, who is visiting from Los Angeles and was sitting at the end of a pedestrian bridge a block away.
Irish estimated a total of 13 or 14 shots being fired. “I started counting at after three or four gunshots,” he said.
A neighbor, Mitch Barnes, confirmed the escalating pace of the gunfire, saying he heard about 10 shots overall.
“It was pretty fast, whatever it was, and at the time I thought, 'Someone just got killed,'
But he said he wasn't sure what to think when there was no follow-up siren.
There were reports that people outside the nearby Bullpen sports bar dove under cars when they heard gunfire, though the bar's co-owner, Danny Demers, said those inside the bar were told simply to stay put and lock the doors for about 30 minutes.
After the shooting, authorities blocked off the road to the public, and members of the SWAT team reportedly went door-to-door at both Riverlane Resort and the Fire Mountain Lodge next door, asking folks what they might have heard.
Kass, who lives with his wife in a cabin on the resort he has owned since 1975, was among those awakened and said he was shocked and saddened by the news.
He said he hired Benita Courtright to manage the property about a year ago, and that he also employs her daughter, Jennifer, who cleans cabins. Wayne Courtright also did occasional work around the place.
“He was a very quiet guy and kept very much to himself,” Kass said. “In the year they've been here, I think I've exchanged maybe half a dozen words with him.
Benita Courtright, he said, “is a very wonderful person. It's a bit of a tragedy. A big tragedy,” he said.
“This is total, 100 percent shock,” said Jo Anne Popplewell of St. Helena, who employed Wayne Courtright for six or seven years as a property manager for about a dozen property rentals she owns in Santa Rosa and elsewhere. Except for two occasions where she recalled him losing his temper, “He was the mildest mannered man” — one who went out of his way to spoil her renters, she said.
The shooting comes soon after the death of Andy Lopez, who was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy as he walked down Moorland Avenue in south Santa Rosa with a BB gun modeled after an assault rifle.
The eighth-grader's death has prompted a surge of protests and complaints about law enforcement violence, including demands that the deputy involved, Erick Gelhaus, face prosecution.
“I think they are very different cases,” Freitas said of the Lopez and Courtright shootings. “And I think each of these incidents needs to be judged on the individual circumstances and not on the timing in which they happened.”
The names of the deputies involved in Guerneville were not being released, and it was unclear how many fired their weapons. All involved were place on administrative leave, which is routine in such cases.
The Petaluma Police Department is investigating the case, with assistance from the Santa Rosa Police evidence collection team and the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office, Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or email@example.com.
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