Fresno County Sheriff’s Office helicopter stops suspect in canoe
A day camp for children was locked down Tuesday amid a wild pursuit with Fresno County Sheriff’s deputies that involved rammed cars, a car crashing into a river, shots fired, a dog bite, a canoe and helicopters.
It ended with the arrest of Efrain Martinez, 44, of Parlier, who was booked into Fresno County Jail on suspicion of felony counts of burglary, evading police, resisting arrest and harming a K-9 officer. His bail was set at $75,000.
Tony Botti, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, gave the following account of the chase in a news release:
It began with an alleged burglary Tuesday on the 5200 block of South Wildwood Avenue in Del Rey. The victims saw the suspect and identified him as Martinez, who was known to the sheriff’s office.
Deputies spotted Martinez driving and attempted to pull him over, but he refused. As deputies in vehicles and a sheriff helicopter were in pursuit, they received reports from motorists saying it appeared Martinez was holding a gun and pointing it toward deputies trailing behind.
Martinez eventually made his way to Highway 99 and drove into downtown Fresno. Several deputies used their patrol cars to try and block him on Fresno Street near P Street, where traffic was stopped for a passing train. They tried to get Martinez to surrender by firing a bean bag round from a shotgun, which broke his window, along with another less-lethal round, which landed inside his car, but “Martinez was unfazed.”
Martinez then used his car to ram several vehicles belonging to citizens so he could make his way onto a side street. He got back onto Highway 99 and headed north, exiting onto Avenue 9 in Madera County, then headed east, driving through an orchard off Road 39. He eventually made his way onto a bluff above the San Joaquin River.
Dirt was soft along the edge of the bluff where he was driving, and his car rolled down the embankment and into the river.
Martinez got out of the car and swam across the river toward Scout Island, where around 100 children were attending a day camp. Deputies in the sheriff helicopter, Eagle One, used a loudspeaker to alert the camp to go into lockdown.
The nearby Fig Garden Golf Club also went into lockdown.
A California Highway Patrol helicopter, H40, arrived to assist deputies in a search for Martinez. He was spotted wading through the water and trying to steal a canoe to paddle downstream.
The pilot of Eagle One then hovered over Martinez, “creating a strong force of wind which prevented him from getting into the canoe.”
Martinez got to shore and ran between trees and bushes. A sheriff K-9 dog, Bady, found Martinez hiding and bit him, which allowed deputies to arrest him.
Martinez was taken to a hospital for treatment of his dog bites and was later booked into jail. It took approximately an hour and 15 minutes to arrest him.
The canoe that Martinez tried to steal sank into the river. Deputies later found it with help from the Boy Scouts.
“The scouts were very appreciative since those boats are quite expensive,” Botti said.
Anyone with additional information about Martinez is asked to call the sheriff’s office at 559-600-3111, or Crime Stoppers at 559-498-7867. Tips can also be made online at valleycrimestoppers.org, which remain anonymous and may result in a cash reward.