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Dorner Carjack Victim Near Big Bear: 'I'm No Hero, But I Earned the Reward'

Rick Heltebrake is the manager and caretaker for Boy Scouts Camp Tahquitz on the 38 near Glass Road, and he is one of the last people to speak to multimurder suspect Christopher Dorner and see him alive.

State Route 38 starts in Redlands and it winds more than 50 miles into the San Bernardino Mountains to Big Bear City.

It's not clear what road fugitive multimurder suspect Christopher Dorner took to get to Big Bear Lake on Feb. 7, after allegedly killing a Riverside police officer and wounding another. But he drove down the 38 on Feb. 12 to get to the area of Glass Road and Seven Oaks Road where he allegedly killed a Yucaipa detective and died in a burned-out cabin.

Dorner carjack victim Rick Heltebrake is the manager and caretaker for Boy Scouts Camp Tahquitz on the 38 near Glass Road, and he is one of the last people to speak to Dorner and see him alive.

His phone call alerting authorities of Dorner's presence helped trigger one of the largest law enforcement responses ever seen in the San Bernardino Mountains, as well as the sequence of events that ended with Dorner's death.

Heltebrake has spoken to numerous news outlets since his face-to-face meeting with Dorner, including Long Beach Patch. When Heltebrake spoke to Redlands-Loma Linda Patch on Saturday, it was his first interview since the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department disclosure Friday afternoon of new details about Dorner's final shootout.

Camp Tahquitz is owned by the Boy Scouts Long Beach Area Council, who describe the property as one square mile of "pristine forest land in the Barton Flats area of the San Bernardino Mountains." It's about six miles east of Angelus Oaks and 25 miles from Redlands.

Heltebrake, 61, says his job title at Camp Tahquitz is ranger.

'Just Had Lunch at the Oaks'

"I'm basically the manager," he said Saturday morning at Camp Tahquitz. "I take care of it year round. Going on four years. I'm from Long Beach area, but before I came here I was living in Big Bear for about 17 years. I'm a mountain guy."

According to law enforcement accounts, Dorner had been hiding in a condo he found unlocked near the sheriff's command post in Big Bear Lake, and when the owners, Jim and Karen Reynolds, checked the condo Tuesday, he tied them up and stole their car.

It's about 30 miles from Big Bear Lake to Camp Tahquitz, most of it on the 38.

Heltebrake knew all about Dorner from five days of wall-to-wall news coverage, but he didn't know about the fugitive's sudden emergence from hiding when he took his Dalmation Suni with him to check some Camp Tahquitz property on Glass Road.

"I just had lunch up at the Oaks Restaurant in Angelus Oaks," Heltebrake said. "Kind of ironic, the topic of conversation during lunch with the server there was that things had kind of wound down and appeared to be back to normal.

"Everybody seemed to be thinking that the threat was pretty much gone," Heltebrake said. "Although the official word from the Sheriff's Department was there was no confirmation that Mr. Dorner was out of the area, so we still had that in the back of our minds.

"So I basically finished lunch, came down the highway, and went down Glass Road, which is kind of routine, just to check the area as part of my duties," Heltebrake said. "There's quite a bit of camp property on the downhill side, and that's why I go down Glass Road, to check it out."

'A Rifle Aimed at My Head'

"On my way back up Glass Road coming around a right hand curve I ran into Mr. Dorner," Heltebrake said. "I saw some movement, off to the left in the snow by the trees, and saw Mr. Dorner coming out of the trees with a rifle aimed at my head, and I saw a crashed car behind him.

"He came towards the driver side window of my truck, I heard him say 'I don't want to hurt you, just get out and start walking and take your dog.'

"That's what we did."

Asked what Dorner was wearing, Heltebrake said, "He was all military camouflage, ballistic vest with some pockets in the front that were full of something, I couldn't tell what they were but, you know, he was dressed for business, he was looking to do some damage, it was clear, and he looked like he was ready for it. . . .

"I had just gone past that spot not more than maybe five minutes before that, and he had obviously just crashed that car into the snow bank," Heltebrake said. "Looked like he didn't make the turn, and I'm guessing he'd just got out of the car and I just happened to be coming and he had a gun in his hand, saw his opporunity for another getaway vehicle, and I gave it to him. . . .

"He was calm. I was calm. It was all just kind of happening quickly. I was clearly not one of his targets, and he just needed a vehicle and I gave him a truck."

'Just Start Walking'

Heltebrake said Dorner appeared to be carrying one rifle.

"That's all I saw, I don't know if there was a handgun," Heltebrake said. "I found out yesterday that there was a handgun found at that location later. I don't know what else he had."

Asked about the rifle Dorner pointed at him, Heltebrake said, "Well it was big. I was looking at it kind of down the barrel. I didn't really see it from the side, so I didn't really know what it looked like.

"There might have been some other weapons he left in my truck, I don't know," Heltebrake said. "Apparently he had more than one. I haven't got my truck back yet. I haven't seen it. I have talked to the detectives about it, but you know he might have grabbed some weapons out of that crashed vehicle and thrown them into my truck, and there could have been more in there. I don't know."

When Dorner first approached Heltebrake in his silver 2008 Dodge Ram, Suni was sitting in the passenger seat and apparently did not feel threatened, Heltebrake said.

"Suni just sat there," Heltebrake said. "She was in the passenger seat, curled up. He looked at her and she looked at him and that was that. She didn't bark or growl. She doesn't do that when I'm there, unless there's a need to. . . .

"I asked if I could take the leash and he said, 'No, just start walking.'"

'Word Got Out Real Quick'

Heltebrake's cell got reception as he walked and he called law enforcement.

"I called a local deputy who lives in the area. He's the one that patrols this area for San Bernardino County. And pretty much he's 9-1-1. We just call him directly. . . .

"When I got to the highway, I got a ride from a friend at another camp," Heltebrake said. "We went east on the highway and I was going to take a road that goes around the back but when we got to that road the CHP already had a road block up there.

"So the word was out," Heltebrake said. "Got out real quick. And not long after that, pretty much the world was coming up from Big Bear, probably. I know they were coming from both directions. So by the time I got back to my camp, there was probably 200 cop cars here. And they had set up a command post, and this is where they were for a while."

Asked about the first two deputies who confronted Dorner at the cabin on Seven Oaks Road below Glass Road, Heltebrake said, "I don't know if they were down there already or if they were one of the ones that responded."

'I'm No Hero'

Heltebrake said he does not consider himself a hero. But he still wants half the $1 million reward money that was announced Feb. 10 by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, in conjunction with other agencies and private donors.

"The one thing I'd like to put out there is I was pretty much inundated on Facebook and emails about being a hero and stuff.

"The main focus is, the real story is these law enforcement officers are the heroes. I just want to be clear about that. They're out there doing this all the time. Yeah, I was doing my job, they were out doing their job. Clearly I wasn't one of Mr. Dorner's targets. Unfortunately he found some of his targets later on down that road and one of them didn't make it.

"The next day we were watching the funeral of the Riverside officer, and now we still have to deal with the funeral of the San Bernardino deputy, so that's the real story, and I just want to be clear on who the real heroes are."

'They Made a Big Deal Putting Up the Reward'

Asked about the reward money, Heltebrake said, "That's a controversial subject.

"That's the story now. And I want to be out there with it. And by the way I appear to be the only one out there fighting for this. But I'm going to keep fighting for it.

"I believe I deserve it, or at least a portion of it," Heltebrake said. "I believe it was my phone call that put an end directly to the biggest manhunt in California history, and also by the way, put an end to all the money they were spending on that manhunt.

"They made a big deal about putting up this reward," Heltebrake said. "Now they appear to be trying to back out of it on a technicality, regarding capture and conviction. Nobody ever believed that Mr. Dorner would ever be captured, so I don't know why they put that in there. I have my theories but I don't want to get into it right now.

"They need to do the right thing," Heltebrake said. "That money came from corporate donors, it wasn't taxpayer money, it was private people."

Asked about the Reynolds couple, who were tied up by Dorner but managed to call police, Heltebrake said, "We're going to put our claims in and see where it goes. They started the ball rolling that day.

"Only one of those two people made the call, so a 50-50 split would be fair. I don't think it would be fair to split it three ways but I'd be good with 50-50. We'll put the claims in and see where it goes."

Workers early Saturday Feb. 16 placed fence around the burned cabin on Seven Oaks Road where Dorner allegedly shot and killed a deputy, wounded another, and apparently shot himself in the head when SWAT deputies deployed pyrotechnic gas that set the structure afire with him inside.

San Bernardino County sheriff's officials called the move a last resort to get Dorner to surrender. Dorner's charred remains were located in a basement area of the cabin, Sgt. Trevis Newport of the sheriff's Homicide Division said Friday at a news conference.

Authorities believe Dorner, who was fired by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009, is accountable for four killings in the space of ten days: a former LAPD captain's daughter and her fiancé in Irvine on Feb. 3, Riverside police Officer Michael Crain on Feb. 7, and San Bernardino County sheriff's Detective Jeremiah MacKay on Feb. 12.

Crain was a Redlands High School graduate, a student at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, and a Beaumont resident. MacKay worked in the Big Bear area and Yucaipa, and he was a resident of Redlands. Both men leave behind wives and young children.

Related News:

  • Candlelight Vigil for Sheriff's Detective Slain in Final Confrontation with Dorner
  • Funeral for Sheriff's Detective Jeremiah MacKay: Date and Time Announced
  • REDLANDS MOURNS: Slain Detective is Second Local Victim Tied to Dorner
  • DORNER'S LAST STAND: Fugitive Kept Trying to Shoot More Deputies at Cabin
  • DORNER INVESTIGATION: Gunshot Wound to Head Appears Self-Inflicted
  • DORNER IS DEAD: Confirmed ID of Charred Remains Made in Autopsy
  • VIDEO: Thousands Mourn Loss of Slain Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain
  • MANHUNT SHOOTOUT: Angelus Oaks Family Recalls Massive Response on 38
  • DORNER MANHUNT: Mountain Search for Alleged Cop-Killer to Go Thru Night
  • Murder Charges Filed Against Chris Dorner in Redlands High Grad's Death
  • Funeral Service Information for Slain Riverside Police Officer Mike Crain
  • $1 Million Reward Offered For Dorner's Capture
  • LAPD Chief Beck's Full Statement on Reviewing Dorner's Termination Case
  • MANHUNT: Search For Rogue Former Cop Continues
  • DORNER MANHUNT: Armed Deputies Vigilant on Snowbound Mountain Roads
  • Winter Storm Warning for Mountains Where Dorner Search is Under Way
  • DORNER MANIFESTO: Rogue Officer Posted His Plan for 'Last Resort' Online

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Ann February 21, 2013 at 06:38 AM
He is a good human being and he did do the right thing, he was carjacked by that Idiot and he called the police, that my friend, Debra, is doing "the right thing". If he wanted to he could have NOT called the police. They really need to give that couple and Mr. Heltebrake the reward. End of Story...
Ann February 21, 2013 at 06:41 AM
LAPD offered it and should pay it out. again, END OF STORY.
Ann February 21, 2013 at 06:44 AM
Rest in Peace. See you while paying my respects to Officer MacKay. Much love from one law enforcement employee.
Debra Pflieger February 21, 2013 at 07:34 AM
Ann, My issue here is not that I do not think he or anybody else should get reward monies...My issue is that he has it all figured out How much he thinks that he deserves of that reward money and he had that all figured out the eve of the incident? End of story...
Gsk Ksgg March 03, 2013 at 03:14 PM
yes you are correct,they already knew by his manifesto that he wasnt going to be taken alive,and he had picked out targets for his revenge.they knew ahead of time this guy wasnt going down until he was taken down by a fatal shot by the cops or from his own hand if need be.he had the ground rules for his late days here,and there was no way he was going to just surrender and be jailed.so the reward should be given to those who aided in given the correct location where he was holed up .dont offer a reward and then put on some restrictions that cant be accomplished.

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