IRVINE – A camp ranger carjacked by Christopher Dorner, the fired Los Angeles police officer who killed an Irvine couple and two law enforcement officials before taking his own life, is suing Irvine and several other public agencies after being denied a $1 million reward offered to end the hunt for the killer.
Irvine city officials Monday received a summons and a copy of a lawsuit filed by Richard Heltebrake, a San Bernardino resident who claims that his phone call to authorities after being carjacked by Dorner played a “substantial role” in ending the search for the fugitive and who believes he is entitled to a $1 million reward offered in the midst of the manhunt.
A panel of three retired U.S. District Court judges was empowered with deciding how or whether to divvy up the $1 million in reward money, which includes $100,000 contributed by Irvine.
After Dorner’s death during a violent showdown with law enforcement officers at cabin near Big Bear Lake, at least 12 people have stepped forward to claim that they should get a piece of the reward.
Authorities last week announced that the majority of the reward money, 80 percent, will go to James and Karen Reynolds, who were tied up by Dorner after they confronted him at their Big Bear Lake cabin, where police believe Dorner had been hiding to elude a search of the area. The couple were able to get free of their bindings and call 911, alerting authorities to Dorner’s presence in the area and leading to a final standoff.
The remainder of the reward money was split between R. Lee McDaniel, who saw Dorner in a Corona parking lot, confirming to authorities that Dorner was in Southern California, and Daniel McGowan, who saw Dorner’s burning truck on an unpaved fire route, narrowing the search to snowy wilderness around Big Bear Lake.
The judges in a report outlining their decision acknowledged that Heltebrake had called a sheriff’s deputy to report that Dorner had hijacked his vehicle. However, the judges also noted that law enforcement officials had seen Dorner by the time Heltebrake’s call was made, leading them to determine that he wasn’t entitled to reward money.
Heltebrake’s lawsuit criticizes the decision to allow the judges to determine who received the money, referring to it as a “secret tribunal which could act beyond public scrutiny.” Along with the public agencies that contributed to the reward fund, Heltebrake’s lawsuit also names the Reynoldses, McDaniel and McGowan as defendants.
Irvine officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
A Superior Court judge Friday declined to grant Heltebrake a temporary restraining order that would have stopped authorities from beginning to disburse the reward money.
The hunt for Dorner led to an unprecedented dragnet across Southern California after the former officer was identified as the prime suspect in the killings of Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence, an Irvine couple gunned down in a parking garage at an apartment complex.
Authorities believe Dorner targeted the couple as part of a grudge against Quan’s father, a former Los Angeles Police Department captain who represented Dorner in the board of review hearings that led to Dorner’s firing. In a rambling manifesto uncovered after the Irvine murders, Dorner threatened his former LAPD colleagues and their families, claiming that they had forced his firing from a department he described as racist and corrupt.
Dorner is also believed to have shot and killed Riverside police officer Michael Crain and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department detective Jeremiah MacKay in separate confrontations, both of which authorities described as ambushes.
By SEAN EMERY/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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