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Four dead in shooting, fire at mobile home park in northwest Santa Maria

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Four people were found dead Friday after Santa Maria police officers responded to reports of shots fired just after 11:30 a.m. and, moments later, Santa Maria fire crews were called to a structure fire at a mobile home community in the 500 block of West Taylor Street.

Black smoke billowed high into the sky — visible for miles — from several burning mobile homes at Casa Grande Mobile Estates, where police officers armed with assault-style rifles and wearing body armor searched for a gunman on foot while a helicopter circled overhead.

One of the bodies was found in the Casa Grande clubhouse, police said.

Another found on the grass near the clubhouse and the park's golf course, was covered with a green tarp as the investigation proceeded.

Two more bodies were later found inside the burned-out mobile home of the suspect, Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen said. 

“We haven't made any identification on the remains [found] in the house," Hansen said during a press briefing. "Obviously it was a very intense fire; that complicates identification and things of that nature, so it appears that there are two deceased inside of the house.”

The fire, which destroyed or damaged as many as four mobile homes, was finally knocked down around 1 p.m. 

Santa Maria Police Cmdr. Dan Cohen said the blaze and shooting are "very likely linked," but no official cause of the fire had been determined Friday afternoon.

Initially firefighters, unable to access the burning mobile homes, blocked West Taylor Street with their engines and directed traffic onto side streets, leaving a wide stretch on either side of the entrance devoid of vehicles except those parked at homes across the street. 

Casa Grande residents and guests inside the park were kept well away from the clubhouse, where a police command post was set up, and the burning mobile homes, leaving them to mill about on a grassy area nearby or talk with neighbors on their porches.

Residents who were outside the park were stopped at the entrance, sparking anger among those trying to get to their homes or relatives with medical conditions.

"We have a resident with Alzheimer's, and we just want to know what's happening with the fire," a woman visiting park residents said to police near the command post. "Is it contained?

"We may have to evacuate this person, and they're not telling us anything," she said, walking away.

Residents kept waiting at the entrance to the park were also upset when police allowed members of the media to enter.

The drama unfolds

Running down the sequence of events, Hansen said when the first police officers arrived within 2 minutes of the call, they found two men dead at the clubhouse and were told the suspect might be headed to Unit 407.

Within moments, Hansen said, the officers heard an explosion and saw smoke billowing up from that unit, which was then quickly engulfed in raging flames.

A second explosion was heard later as police converged on the burning mobile homes.

Firefighters with one engine had to cut the lock off the emergency access gate on the west side of the park to gain entry.

Two other engines were allowed to enter the park as far as the command post.

But firefighters were kept from approaching the burning mobile homes until armed officers could escort them in. 

As the homes burned, popping sounds like small arms fire could be heard throughout much of the park.

"All throughout the firefighting efforts, ammunition was cooking off inside 407, so that created a safety hazard for residents, for responding officers and firefighters and whatnot," Hansen said

"You had rounds going off on a pretty regular basis at that location," he added.

Residents were kept outside the area until police had cleared all the yards to be sure there were no additional victims, Sgt. Eligio Lara said.

Officers also had to be sure the shooter was not still at large in the park, Lara said.

Some residents who stood behind lines of orange cones that blocked off the internal streets said the shooting stemmed from an altercation between the three men on the park's pitch-and-putt golf course.

Three-year Casa Grande resident Keith Castro said there had been bad blood for some time between the alleged shooter and the two men killed at the clubhouse.

"These three guys were threatening each other for a long time," he said.

 

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Santa Maria Times staff reporters Razi Syed and Mathew Burciaga contributed to this report.

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City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.

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