By Carolyn Barbre
What do you do if a shirtless bug-eyed guy covered in tattoos and waving a gun demands your car keys? No doubt exactly what Jeremy Jennings, 20, did when it happened to him last Thursday afternoon, Jan. 15, in his own driveway in the 20000 block of Road 208 in Strathmore - turn over the keys.
At 1:30 p.m. that day detectives from the Tulare County Sheriff's Office and the Porterville Police Department were looking for a homicide suspect at a residence in Terra Bella. The homicide had occurred in Turlock, in Stanislaus County on Nov. 22, 2003, when 39-year-old Kevin Lester Marsh was found behind the wheel of a car with a single gunshot wound and died on the way to a hospital. He had last been seen leaving a Turlock home with Cliff Anthony Pruitt, 28, of Modesto.
Jennings jumped into another family vehicle and tried to chase the carjacker, but lost him. He then located a sheriff and reported that his 1999 Jeep Wrangler had just been stolen at gunpoint. Dispatch was notified.
A short time later Lindsay police received a call of a reckless driver in the 800 block of East Samoa Street. They found the Jeep abandoned and went searching for the suspect, who was seen jumping backyard fences. Meanwhile he doubled back, and proceeded to carjack one of the cruisers. Lt. Tim Brown with the Lindsay Police Department said the suspect was spotted trying to bust the window of a running cruiser with the butt of his gun. He said officers carry an extra set of keys and in this type of search, leave the engines running but doors locked on their cars. Brown said when the gun butt didn't do the job, the suspect shot into the vehicle and unlocked the door before taking off.
He headed out of town, turning east on Tulare Road. Lindsay police and sheriff's deputies followed in swift pursuit. The suspect failed to turn off of Tulare Road and ended up getting stuck in the mud where the road, which becomes Avenue 232 deadends by the Friant-Kern Canal.
Neighbors saw the chase and reported they initially heard a few shots fired after the car got stuck. This was followed by a volley of gunfire. It was about 4 p.m. Then everyone waited for the county SWAT team to arrive while a sheriff's department plane circled overhead, confirming that there was no movement in the vehicle. The lights on the stolen cruiser continued to flash. It would be another hour and a half before the SWAT team showed up and secured the scene, turning off the lights.
Next came an ambulance, and last was a sheriff's crime-scene van. Another hour later in the damp chilly dark, it was confirmed that the suspect had been killed.
No names were released that night and the following morning Lt. Brown said, "I left at about 11:15 p.m. and there was still no positive I.D. on the body." He said he had heard nothing the following morning and the only call he had made was to find out where they took the cruiser.
A supplemental report from the Violent Crimes Unit said that during the investigation it was discovered that the suspect and a wanted parolee, Larry Russell Norrod, had been hiding at a residence in the 20000 block of Avenue 200 in Strathmore on and off for several days. Norrod was arrested and is being held without bail on the parole violation.
Two residents, James Ray Hopper, 29, and Mattie Colegrove, 29, along with two other subjects who were at the residence, Melinda Marie Garcia, 29 and Kimberly Hulsey, 23, both of Strathmore, were taken into custody for harboring a wanted felon. Hopper was booked at the Porterville substation. Colegrove, Garcia and Hulsey were booked at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility. Bail for each was set at $500,000.
On Friday afternoon the Tulare County Sheriff's Office identified the victim as Pruit and said "an autopsy is pending, as is the cause of death."