An active-duty Air Force staff sergeant has been arrested in the ambush-style shooting death of a deputy with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday afternoon in Ben Lomond.
Steven Carrillo, who is 32 and stationed at Travis Air Force Base, where he is attached to a military police unit, was arrested at a hospital, where he was being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said Carrillo will be charged with murder and other felonies for the killing of Damon Gutzwiller, 38, a father of one with another baby on the way with his wife.
Hart described Gutzwiller, a local kid who graduated from Aptos High School, as “a beloved figure” at the Sheriff’s Office. He was a patrol supervisor and had been with the department since 2006.
On Sunday, the FBI told The Chronicle that the killing of Gutzwiller may be linked to the shooting death of a security guard outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland during demonstrations May 29. In that incident, in which David Patrick Underwood, 53, of Pinole was killed in similar ambush style, a white van was recorded leaving the scene. The suspect vehicle in the Saturday shooting was also a van. Initial reports by the FBI indicated that it is white. The FBI is investigating the case in partnership with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies responded to a 911 call around 1:30 p.m. Saturday about a suspicious van near Jamison Creek in Ben Lomond, a town of about 6,000 in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
A person had called the Sheriff’s Office to report seeing firearms and bomb-making materials inside the van. When deputies arrived, the van was leaving the area, so deputies followed the vehicle until it stopped at a home on Waldeberg Avenue in Ben Lomond, Hart said.
“As deputies began investigating, they were ambushed with gunfire and multiple improvised explosives,” Hart said, pausing for several seconds before collecting himself during a Saturday night news conference.
Gutzwiller was taken to a local hospital, where he died.
A Travis Air Force Base spokesman confirmed to The Chronicle that Carrillo arrived at the base as an enlisted man in June 2018 and was a member of the 60th Security Forces Squadron.
Carrillo’s wife, Monika Leigh Scott Carrillo, died in May 2018 while stationed with the Air Force in South Carolina at the age of 30. She was born in Grass Valley (Nevada County) and graduated from San Lorenzo High School in 2006. A mother of two, she lived in Boulder Creek with her husband. She was found dead at a hotel near Fort Sumter, where she was posted, according to reports. Her death was ruled suicide after a joint investigation by Sumter County Sheriff and Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
Another deputy, whose name was not released, was shot by gunfire or “struck by shrapnel from the bomb” and struck by a vehicle as the suspect fled the property. He remains in the hospital in stable condition.
A California Highway Patrol officer was also shot in the hand when the suspect “engaged” with CHP officers, Hart said. That officer’s condition was unknown.
Patrick McCue, who owns Redwood Coast Dispensary, a small marijuana business along Highway 9 in Ben Lomond, saw part of the aftermath of the shooting. On Saturday afternoon, after the wife of an employee called with a warning of an active shooter nearby, McCue noticed someone running outside on his parking lot surveillance camera and went to check it out with his budtender, Mark Kowalski.
“I noticed a guy crouching by a truck and I said, ‘Hey, can I help you?’” McCue recalled. “Then I noticed he had an assault rifle.”
They were still not alarmed, thinking the clean-cut, well-dressed man was an off-duty cop responding to the shooting.
“Then he told me, ‘I’m not going to hurt anybody. I’m in a jam, can you just give me your keys?’”
“Partner, I can’t help you,” McCue said. They’d later watch surveillance video that allegedly showed how he tried to carjack a customer moments earlier, sending the driver sprinting away with his keys. The suspect then tried to jump into a running car with his rifle, but when the female passenger screamed he jumped right back out, according to McCue.
“He actually apologized to her,” said McCue, who shared his surveillance footage with The Chronicle.
They overheard an odd phrase from the alleged gunman: “I’m really just fed up with the duality of it all.”
“Otherwise, he didn’t send me any signals that he was a threat,” McCue said.
Eventually, a neighbor ran to the shop and told McCue that the gunman was pinned down and to get police. McCue ran toward the police tape just down the highway and yelled to officers.
As he walked back, he saw the SWAT team arrest the suspect.
“I’m considering myself lucky that he wasn’t still pulling the trigger,” Kowalski said. “The real tragedy of it all is a good officer was targeted for something he had nothing to do with.”
On Sunday afternoon, a vigil for Gutzwiller was held at the Sheriff’s Office in Santa Cruz. It started at 2:26, estimated to be the time Gutzwiller was shot 24 hours earlier.
A message was read from Gutzwiller’s widow: “You were the heart of our little family and we love you,” it read.
“I never saw him have a bad day, even when he was due one,” said Sgt. Steve Ryan, Gutzwiller’s longtime patrol partner. “He was better than most of us.”
San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Lauren Hernández contributed to this report.
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