OAKLAND — A fierce gun fight between a cadre of CHP officers and a heavily armed felon with anti-government beliefs ended with the man in the hospital and some lanes on Interstate 580 closed for most of Sunday.
The Tuolumne County man, identified as 45-year-old Byron Williams, was wearing body armor and was armed with a high-powered hunting rifle, a pistol and a shotgun. He had a three-ring binder, recovered from the truck he was driving by a bomb squad robot, with the word "California" scrawled across its cover.
Police said they believed the gunfight put an end to what might have been a desperate mission by a left-wing hating man facing his third strike.
"There is no doubt in our mind, given the body armor and the extensive amount of ammunition he had, that he was on his way to do a very serious crime against either someone or a group of people," CHP Sgt. Trent Cross said.
"This was a very dramatic situation," Cross added. "To perform a routine stop and have it turn into this is basically every officer's worst nightmare."
Two CHP officers pulled Williams over shortly before midnight Saturday on westbound I-580 near Grand Avenue when Williams alledgely opened fire. Officers took cover and called for backup, and 10 officers returned fire for five to eight minutes and seriously wounded him, despite body armor he was wearing, Cross said.
Police found in the truck a suspicious object that prompted
I-580 had to be closed in both directions for several hours to keep the controlled explosion safe. The eastbound lanes were opened about two hours later. CHP opened two left lanes of westbound I-580 around 7 p.m. All lanes are now open in both directions.
"We understand drivers (were) getting frustrated and angry, but we need to be thorough in this investigation," CHP officer Sam Morgan said. The CHP was conducting an administrative investigation side-by-side with a criminal investigation by Oakland police and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.
Law enforcement sources said Williams has a history showing he is both anti-government and anti-corporation, and against liberal causes.
Williams, who traveled 130 miles from his Groveland home, has an extensive criminal history with at least two felonies and could face life in prison, Cross said. He was arrested Sunday on suspicion of attempted murder. He is in serious but stable condition at Highland Hospital. His background, coupled with the presence of possible explosives, was enough to prompt the FBI to get involved in the investigation, Cross said.
"Right now, this is not being looked at as a domestic terrorism case," Cross said Sunday afternoon. "But there's more evidence to go through, and that could change."
Among that evidence was a white three-ring binder recovered from the truck by a bomb squad robot. Scrawled by hand on the cover of the binder was the word, "California." Officials would not describe the contents of the binder.
Williams' drivers license is suspended and he was driving impaired by alcohol, Morgan said.
The confrontation began when a pair of CHP officers noticed a white 2006 Toyota Tundra speeding and weaving across lane markers on I-580, Morgan said. The officers pulled the truck over near the Grand Avenue exit and as one officer approached the truck, Williams began firing a pistol at both officers, Morgan said.
The officers took cover behind their squad car and called for back-up, Morgan said, adding that Williams continued to fire his pistol and rifle as more officers arrived. Ten officers returned fire and Williams, wearing a bullet-resistant vest, was shot several times, Morgan said.
The gun battle lasted between five and eight minutes on a raised portion of the freeway above a Quik Stop on Macarthur Boulevard, Morgan said. More than 60 rounds were fired.
Two officers were hurt by shards of glass when bullets shattered the windshield and driver's-side window of a squad car. They were treated at a nearby hospital and released, Morgan said.
Despite the large amount of gunfire, there were no injuries or reports of property damage from neighbors, officials said.
Mike Lozito was watching television when he heard the first shots, five loud ones that prompted him to get low and wait out the shooting from a position below his street-level windows on nearby Oakland Avenue.
"I must have heard 100, 150 rounds go off. It was insanity," Lozito said. Because of the intensity of the shooting, Lozito said he was surprised to hear it was a lone suspect.
Though police said the shooting lasted five to eight minutes, Lozito estimated the shooting last 15 to 20 minutes.
Williams' truck was registered to his mother, Janice Williams, with whom investigators believe he lives, Morgan said.
Dorothy Wothe, a neighbor in Groveland, a small town near the west entrance to Yosemite National Park, said she's never met Byron Williams, but, "When he first got out of prison, Janice had him go to church with her." Wothe said Byron Williams had also worked on the property, building a nursery for his mother's garden.
After being arrested in 2002 on suspicion of bank robbery, Williams told investigators in Chowchilla that he was planning to rob a Bank of America branch but abandoned that bank for another because of a long line and because customers and tellers laughed at the suit and blond wig he was wearing, according to local press reports at the time.
Williams alledgedly led officers on a wild chase at speeds of 100 mph before crashing his truck.
In Sunday's shootout, all 10 officers who fired their guns were placed on administrative leave, as is standard in police shootings, police said.
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