Last week's deadly police chase may end up being one of the oddest in the history of the Ceres Police Department.
The Wednesday, March 6 incident resulted with the death of the suspect being chased and two officers placed on administrative leave after firing their guns at the driver at the end of a chase that started in Ceres and ended near Livingston.
Brandon Wesley Eckel, 26, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Merced County coroner's officials seconds before two Ceres officers opened fire on him.
The incident began at 12:18 a.m. when Officer Bryan Ferreira observed Eckel in the parking lot of St. Jude's Catholic Church acting suspiciously. He drove off, followed by Ferreira who conducted a traffic stop after seeing Eckel throw a cigarette butt out the window in the area of Don Pedro Road and Omie Lane. Eckel pulled over and during the investigation, Ferreira learned the driver was driving the 1998 GMC Sonoma truck on a suspended license. Ferreira explained that Eckel's car was going to be towed. That's when Eckel started the car up and drove off, leading officers on a high-speed car chase. Eckel drove through a chain-link fence that separated the freeway from the frontage road, first driving northbound to Hatch Road and then southbound on 99.
Ceres officers Brian Albonetti and Dirk Nieuwenhuis joined in the chase as did a California Highway Patrol officer.
In the Livingston area, Eckel drove his pickup through a center median and chain-link fence, across the northbound lanes to drive onto the northbound Highway 99 onramp at Sultana Drive. After he lost control of and wrecked his vehicle, the suspect fled into an orchard flowered in thick blossoms. He was carrying a shotgun, officers shooting after he pointed it at officers. Albonetti, Nieuwenhuis and an undisclosed CHP officer all fired at the subject during the chase. Eckel, who may have been wounded by officers' rounds, then reportedly aimed the barrel at his jaw and took his own life.
Eckel had been living with his girlfriend in the Stockton area. Eckel has an extensive criminal history, including domestic violence, drug violations, evading officers, resisting arrest and being a sex offender. During the investigation, drugs were found on Eckels' body.
All three officers were injured and back on the job after being placed on a short paid administrative leave, which is common protocol in shootings.
The incident was the third time Ceres officers had shot suspects in four months. On Feb. 11 police shot a deranged Samuel Tome Matos when he refused to put down a machete during a family disturbance in the 2400 block of Pine Ridge Drive. Matos survived and faces charges of suspicion of two felony counts of assault on a police officer.
On Nov. 2 Ceres Officer Joe Wren shot Martin Moreno, 28, of Ceres, in the shoulder after a short chase that started at Del Taco in Ceres and ended when Moreno tried to ram the officer on Belleza Court. Moreno has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, felony evading an officer, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and obstructing and resisting a police officer.