[UPDATE 4:28 p.m.] Body Found in Burning Van; Witness Describes Encounter With Suspect
The alert stated, “The subject is described as a white male adult, 6 foot tall, 180 lbs, wearing a white jumpsuit. with logging boots. SUBJECT MAY BE ARMED AND DANGEROUS. IF YOU SEE ANYONE MATCHING THIS DESCRIPTION DO NOT APPROACH AND CONTACT THE SHERIFFS OFFICE 9-1-1 or (707) 463-4086.”
Jamie Rennie, a Southern Humboldt resident, was returning home from visiting family in Mendocino County when he saw the van with a fire under it on the side of the road about mile marker 100 in a place he described as being near the Forest Service road that leads to Usal. “I was going northbound on [Hwy] 1 when I saw a white van in pretty decent shape.” He said he saw it near the gated forest service road. “There was a fire underneath it. It was a pretty aggressive fire…It looked like someone had a campfire underneath the vehicle.” [Update: Further research indicates that this is Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc land.]
Rennie said then he saw a man underneath the van. At first, he thought the man was on fire. “The guy underneath it was totally bizarre. Initially, when I saw the scene, I was kind of bewildered. My first assumption was that he was trying to put the fire out.”
Then the man rolled out from underneath the van, Rennie said. “His leg was on fire…He was patting his leg and jumping around…He was yelling incoherently and ran around to the back of the vehicle.”
Rennie described the man as having on a “white jumpsuit or light coveralls” and workboots. He said the man was likely in his 50’s and was a cleanshaven white man.
“He was up to something there,” Rennie said. “He never tried to engage with me. He was just running around in a frantic situation.”
Rennie moved his vehicle further up the road so that fire vehicles could get close. As he was walking back, he saw what he describes as a surreal scene. He believes that the emergency brake melted. Then, he said, “The vehicle rolled backwards on fire, across the road, down the bank and hit a tree.” Then, he said, it was engulfed in fire.
Rennie tried to slow traffic as it passed by. Another man joined him. “When the fire crew got there,” he explained, “I told them my story.”The fire crews found a body in the fire and told him he needed to stick around. “Me and another bystander walked up to where the vehicle [had been],” Rennie explained. He took the picture of the burnt cellphone, the gun, and the drill shown above at that time. Those items had been left behind when the van rolled away.
Rennie said he didn’t see where the man went. “My assumption is that he kept going by the forest road. I didn’t go looking for him.”