OAKLAND — Byron Christopher Williams, who police say might have been headed on a violent crime spree when he fired at CHP officers Saturday night, has done time in California and Washington and knew he was facing a third strike when he was stopped Saturday night carrying three firearms, authorities said.
The unemployed carpenter has been out of prison for three years and was on federal parole, authorities said.
In June 2002, Williams was arrested for bank robbery after robbing the California Federal Branch in Chowchilla. He had been planning to rob a Bank of America branch but abandoned that plan when he saw a long line and because customers and tellers laughed at the suit and blond wig he was wearing, according to published reports.
In Seattle and King County, where Williams lived during the 1990s, he was convicted of theft, assault, property destruction, drunken driving and hit-and-run, according to Washington Court reports.
He was arrested here early Sunday morning on suspicion of attempted homicide after a gunbattle with CHP officers following a traffic stop. Williams was injured in the gunbattle and remains at an Oakland hospital in stable condition, police said Monday.
A third strike could put him in prison for the rest of his life.
The 45-year-old Groveland man has a history of anti-government and anti-corporation behavior, and a deep-rooted hate for liberal causes, authorities said. He reportedly ranted at one point about "the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items," according to published reports.
Oakland Police, who are investigating the incident on the request of the CHP, weren't saying much about the case or a possible motive Monday.
"We have some idea of where he was going (Saturday night) but we're not going to put it out there," said Oakland police spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason.
Thomason continued, "We're not sure if there may be some bigger, underlying criminal enterprise going on. I can't get into that."
Williams may not have been acting alone, police said.
Thomason said Oakland police are following up numerous leads, executing search warrants in other cities and looking for possible accomplices.
Police said Williams was wearing body armor and was armed with a high-powered hunting rifle, a pistol and a shotgun at the time of the stop. 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. Authorities have declined to say what was in the binder.
CHP spokesman Sgt. Trent Cross said there is "no doubt" Williams was on his way to do a "very serious crime against either someone or a group of people."
"We know what happened on the freeway. What we're trying to figure out now is why it happened, and what came before," Thomason said. The FBI is helping with the investigation, but a spokesman declined to comment Monday.
The confrontation began shortly before midnight Saturday when a pair of CHP officers noticed a white 2006 Toyota Tundra speeding and weaving across lane markers on westbound Interstate 580, police 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, police said.
Officers took cover and called for backup. Ten CHP officers returned fire for about 15 minutes, seriously wounding Williams, despite the body armor he was wearing, police said. Two CHP officers were sent to the hospital with injuries from bullet-shattered glass, a CHP spokesman said. They were treated and released from a hospital.
The 10 officers who fired their guns were placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard in police shootings, police said.
Inside the suspect's truck, police found a suspicious object that prompted investigators to call a bomb squad. The object was detonated Sunday without incident. I-580 was closed in both directions for several hours.
Details about Williams are slowly emerging. He was born in Honolulu and grew up and went to high school on Maui. Authorities don't know how long Williams has been on the mainland. He is currently living in Groveland, a Tuolmne County town of about 5,000 that is about 130 miles southeast from Oakland and just 25 miles outside the Yosemite National Park entrance. Last year, he was banned from the town's only bar — the Iron Door Saloon, where he got into a fist fight in the watering hole.
Police said Williams' truck was registered to his mother, Janice Williams, with whom investigators believe he lives. Janice Williams was not available for comment Monday.
Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report.