By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - A gunman with two wounded captives in the trunk of his car opened fire at passing vehicles and bystanders during an hour- long, car chase with police near Ridgecrest, California on Friday, before being shot dead in a gunbattle, authorities said.
Police from Ridgecrest, which is about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, spotted the man earlier Friday in connection with a possible suspect in a separate homicide investigation, according Michael Whorf, a senior deputy with the Kern County Sheriff's Office.
The suspect did not stop when an officer followed him at about 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT), and a chase began.
"During the pursuit, the suspect fired at passersby, passing vehicles, and the officers pursuing him," Whorf said. "The suspect started firing multiple times at different places as the vehicle was moving...as he was driving."
The chase ended at about 8:15 a.m. PDT, roughly 50 miles south of Ridgecrest, with the suspect killed in "an exchange of gunfire" with authorities, Whorf said.
Officers found two injured victims, a man and a woman who had each been shot, in the trunk of the suspect's vehicle. They were taken to a local hospital for treatment, Whorf said, adding he had no information on their condition. It was unclear when the pair had been shot.
A stretch of at least eight miles of U.S. Route 395, which runs north-south, was closed because of the incident, said California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Darlena Dotson.
Ridgecrest Mayor Dan Clark, a local educator, was giving a class in conflict resolution and mediation when the shooting spree occurred. He said schools were on lockdown for about 40 minutes.
Ridgecrest, which has some 28,000 residents, is adjacent to the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in an otherwise remote area flanked by four mountain ranges. Details about the homicide that prompted the car chase were not immediately available, though Whorf said he believed there was one victim.
The California incident followed a shooting on Thursday near a U.S. naval facility in Tennessee that left three National Guard members slightly wounded.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix, and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Gevirtz)