William Edward Steele, 39, of Hopland, Calif., is facing 17 counts and numerous special allegations for allegedly shooting at two California Highway Patrol officers early on the morning of Saturday, October 19, 2013. Jeremy John, who had been in Steele's vehicle and who jumped out to get away, died on Tuesday, October 22, 2013, leading prosecutors to additionally charge Steele with murder. Lake County Jail photo.
LAKEPORT, Calif. – The man accused of shooting at two California Highway Patrol officers who attempted to pull him over early Saturday morning is now facing a murder charge after a man who jumped out of his vehicle died of his injuries.
William Edward Steele, 39, of Hopland found out he was additionally being charged with the murder of Jeremy John at his Tuesday afternoon arraignment in Lake County Superior Court.
Altogether, Steele is facing 17 counts and numerous special allegations for the early morning shooting and pursuit.
The charges include murder, two counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, two counts of attempted murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment, two counts of assault with a firearm, felon in possession of a firearm, felon in possession of ammunition, possession of a gun while having a restraining order, hit and run, gross vehicular manslaughter, shooting at an inhabited vehicle, felony reckless evading of a peace officer and failure to register as a controlled substances offender.
He's also charged with a number of special allegations for personal use of a firearm, personal and intentional discharge of a firearm, and personally inflicting great bodily injury on John.
Steele is alleged to have numerous past felony convictions in Mendocino County that affect his charging, including two assault with a deadly weapon convictions that took place in 1992 and 2004, and battery with serious bodily injury in 2005.
He also had a domestic violence protective order placed against him in Lake County Superior Court in August 2012, according to court records.
Attorney Stephen Carter, appointed on Tuesday to defend Steele, said the charges carry with them the possibility of “multiple life terms” if Steele is convicted.
Just after 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning two CHP officers, Shane Roach and Glen Thomas, attempted to pull over Steele's Chevy Tahoe – concerned that he was driving under the influence – on Highway 29 near Cruickshank Drive, officials reported.
Steele shot at the officers and fled, then in the area of Live Oak Drive he pulled over, made a U-turn and shot again at the officers, according to official reports of the incident.
John, a Mendocino County resident who was riding in the vehicle with Steele, was found lying on the ground in the area of Live Oak Drive, according to officials.
“It's our belief right now that he tried to jump out of the car to get away,” said District Attorney Don Anderson.
Authorities were not able to question John, who never regained consciousness, Anderson said.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Art Grothe said that at around 11 a.m. Tuesday John died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he had been airlifted early Saturday.
Grothe said Steele was taken into custody later Saturday morning in the area of Wilkinson Road and Highway 29 after he had abandoned his SUV in the area of Highway 29 and Sand Hill and fled on foot.
Anderson said a female subject – identified by court records at Gavina Delgadillo – also had been detained, questioned and later released, with Delgadillo considered a witness, not a suspect. The kidnapping and false imprisonment charges against Steele relate to Delgadillo, based on the charging document.
Court records showed that in interviews with investigators on the day of the incident, Steele was exhibiting “symptoms of chronic use of methamphetamine and, at times, detailed somewhat elaborate alleged conspiracies of law enforcement officers involving ritualistic murders.”
Steele alleged in statements to investigators that law enforcement officers allegedly robbed him of $16,000 in previous encounters, and he claimed that officers also have threatened to have him killed.
“This statement was made in the context of defendant indirectly explaining his actions in the incident herein charged,” according to court records.
Steele stated during the interviews that “he presumed that due to past negative contacts with law enforcement, any dealings with law enforcement officers would inevitably turn violent.” Because of his distrust of law enforcement, Steele admitted that he routinely carried a firearm.
He also told investigators that he was carrying $30,000 on him at the time of the arrest and that he usually carries much more.
Mendocino County law enforcement officials told local authorities that the source of Steele's money is per capita payments totaling $90,000 per calendar quarter from the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians of Healdsburg, which owns the San Pablo Lytton Casino.
Steele had formerly lived at Hopland Rancheria, according to the report from Mendocino County officials, but had been banned from the rancheria due to “repeated violent and assaultive behavior.”
Grothe said Steele indicated to investigators that he has been staying in Lake County “for an undetermined period of time.”
Regarding the murder charge, Carter noted, “At this stage the prosecution doesn't have to elect what the theory of that murder charge is.”
One of the possibilities, he said, is the “felony murder” theory, which says that if a person is engaged in a felony act and someone dies, they can be charged with murder. It's different from the provocative act theory, which charges codefendants with murder when someone is killed during a felony crime.
“It's unusual in our county to have a felony murder charge,” said Carter, noting that it's still early and the prosecution could elect to pursue a different legal theory in the case.
Carter said he hasn't yet received any police reports from the prosecution, but he expects to receive them very soon.
Retired Judge David Herrick, who presided at Steele's Tuesday afternoon arraignment, ordered Steele to be held without bail. Steele's bail had been set at $200,000 at the time of his arrest and raised to $750,000 on Monday, Grothe said.
Steele is due to return to court for entry of plea and setting of preliminary hearing at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, in Judge Andrew Blum's Department 3 courtroom.
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