FBI probes possible van link in officer ambushes in Santa Cruz, Oakland

FBI probes possible white van link in Santa Cruz, Oakland ambushes on officers
The FBI is looking into whether this white van, seen at the scene of a shooting of two federal security officers in Oakland on May 29, is the same van used in an ambush on law enforcement in Santa Cruz County on Saturday, June 6. (Photo credit: FBI)

The van driven by a suspect arrested in connection with an ambush attack on Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies in Ben Lomond on Saturday is being investigated as possibly linked to the shooting of two federal security officers in Oakland on May 29, John Bennett, special agent in charge of FBI San Francisco, announced during a press conference Monday.

The Santa Cruz County incident resulted in the death of Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, while the Oakland incident resulted in the death of Pinole resident Dave Patrick Underwood.

At about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Santa Cruz deputies responded to a caller who reported a suspicious van with guns and bomb making materials inside. Arriving deputies saw the van leaving the area and tried to follow it, according to Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart. The deputies subsequently found the van at a home in Ben Lomond. While deputies began investigating, they were ambushed by gunfire and multiple improvised explosive devices fired down on the them from above a hillside, Hart said.

Sgt. Gutzwiller, 38, was fatally shot, while another deputy was injured by a gunshot and shrapnel and was struck by the car that the suspect fled in, Hart said.

Santa Cruz Sheriff Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller

The suspect, identified as Steven Carrillo, 32, an active-duty U.S. Air Force sergeant, managed to escape the scene. He carjacked a vehicle and attempted several more carjackings, but was subsequently subdued by a heroic resident. The resident encountered Carrillo in his backyard. Carrillo, armed with an AR-15, demanded the resident’s car. After the resident gave him the keys, Carrillo turned around and the resident tackled him. The AR-15 fell away, and Carrillo then tried to pull out a pipe bomb from his pants and light it, followed by a pistol. In both cases, the resident managed to knock them away, Hart said. By then, neighbors came to help subdue Carrillo.

“This guy could have done a lot more damage in our community if the resident didn’t take the action that he did,” Hart said.

Now, the FBI is looking into the possibility that the white van involved in the Santa Cruz County case is the same used in Oakland on May 29, when a white van pulled up to the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building at 1301 Clay St. at about 9:45 p.m. and an occupant fired at two federal officers who were guarding the building amid protests.

Dave Patrick Underwood. (Photo credit: Pinole PD)

Underwood died as a result of the shooting and another, unnamed federal officer was seriously injured. The van, captured in video surveillance, was identified as a 1997-2002 Ford E-250 or E-350 Cargo Van that “did not appear to have license plates at the time of the shooting,” the FBI reported.

Both Sgt. Gutzwiller  and Underwood are being remembered by their colleagues, friends and loved ones as good people who loved their family and were good at their jobs.