Badge saves Huntington Beach police officer’s life in gun-battle car chase; suspect dies in fiery crash

Aug. 26, 2016

Evidence markers litter the street on Yorktown Avenue Friday morning as Huntington Beach police officers and crime scene investigators work on the scene of the shootout between officers and domestic violence suspect Thursday night at the intersection of Yorktown Avenue and Bushard Street in Huntington Beach. SAM GANGWER , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


HUNTINGTON BEACH – A police officer’s badge deflected a bullet heading for his heart in a gun battle during a car chase early Friday morning, officials said.

The Huntington Beach officer suffered minor cuts from shattered glass.

The incident began near Bushard Street and Yorktown Avenue after a man fled by car from his home when police arrived after midnight responding to a domestic-violence call.

The man drove east on Yorktown with officers in pursuit. Abruptly, he made a U-turn and opened fire on the two approaching patrol cars, police said.

“One of the bullets struck an officer in the badge,” said Officer Jennifer Marlatt, a department spokeswoman.

“The round came through the front windshield of the officer’s car, struck the officer’s badge and deflected off. The round did not go through the badge or hit the officer’s (protective) vest,” she said.

Both officers returned fire – one from the driver’s seat of his moving patrol car, Marlatt said. The officers turned their cars around and continued the chase.

“The pursuit reached high speeds and, at one point, we lost sight of the driver,” Marlatt said.

That occurred near Harbor Boulevard and the I-405 freeway. Costa Mesa police, joined by a Huntington Beach police helicopter, spotted the suspect’s vehicle and continued the pursuit.

It snaked along the northbound 55 freeway, the eastbound 91, then the northbound I-15. Along the way, the California Highway Patrol stepped in and took over the high-speed chase.

Eighty-five or so miles after the pursuit began, the suspect lost control of his car and crashed down an embankment at Cleghorn Road in the Cajon Pass. The vehicle burst into flames, and the driver was killed.

Police said the woman involved in the domestic dispute was OK but wouldn’t release other details.

As to the 10-year Huntington officer whose badge deflected the bullet, Marlatt said he was fine.

“Adrenaline kicked in, and he didn’t even know he was hit until he pulled over in Costa Mesa,” Marlatt said.

The badge’s position – which was on the edge of his body armor – may have prevented the bullet from striking flesh rather than the officer’s protective vest, saving his life.

The metal of police badges varies by department. Huntington Beach’s are 100 grams of pure steel, Marlatt said.

Police Chief Robert Handy spoke with the officer in the hospital and, later after he was released, at the stationhouse.

“He’s doing great,” the chief said. “He’s in really good spirits. … It’s safe to say the badge saved his life … This officer was very lucky.

“I’m super proud of these guys,” Handy said.