For law enforcement, hope in Yolo County turns to heartbreak in Davis

What started as a hopeful week for county law enforcement ended in heartbreak with the loss of a young police officer in Davis.
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Yadi Flores (left) and Isabel Espindola (right) mourn the loss of their friend, Ofc. Natalie Coroner, at a memorial outside the Davis Police Department on January 11, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express

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Sheriff Tom Lopez, left, is administered the oath of office by retired Yolo County Deputy Coroner Larry Jorgensen at a swearing in ceremony on Monday, January 7, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express[/caption] Last week, there was nothing but joy in the atrium of the Yolo County Administration Building where Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez ascended to the role of the county’s top law enforcement officer to the cheers and applause of his fellow deputies. Just one day later, in his first act as sheriff, Lopez encouraged Rich Williams, another career law enforcement agent, to come out of retirement and serve as his right-hand man, the undersheriff of Yolo County. Just three days after he took office, that joy and hope turned to sadness and grief when a fellow officer’s life was cut short in the streets of Davis. Unlike Lopez, Davis Police Ofc. Natalie Corona had been on the job for just a few weeks, but she was already pegged to be one of the department’s “rising stars,” Police Chief Darren Pytel said at a news conference last week. Like Lopez, she espoused what it meant to be a dedicated public servant: She worked as a community services officer for the police department, and then elected to volunteer full-time when the funding for that position ran out. On Thursday, no one expected that it would be the last time they would see Ofc. Corona. Certainly not the dispatcher who directed her to a multiple vehicle crash on Fifth Street that evening. It was there, police say, that Corona’s life was cut short as she was exchanging information with a driver involved in the crash. A bystander in the crowd, later identified as 48-year-old Kevin Douglas Limbaugh, drew a handgun and opened fire once, striking Corona. She likely never saw the man who shot her, police say. She fell to the ground instantly. Limbaugh walked up to her and emptied his gun, striking her multiple times. He then turned to first responders from a nearby firehouse and opened fire on them, and then started shooting indiscriminately around the scene. Corona was rushed to U.C. Davis Medical Center, where she died from her injuries. [caption id="attachment_765696" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Local, state and federal law enforcement officials stage in front of Davis City Hall following a shooting Thursday night. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express Local, state and federal law enforcement officials stage in front of Davis City Hall following a shooting Thursday night. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express[/caption] The shooting drew a heavy police presence throughout Davis. Law enforcement officers from “every agency in the region,” including local police, the California Highway Patrol, the FBI and ATF, descended on Davis, providing support to police officers who were trying to make sense of what happened and capture the person responsible. After the shooting, police say Limbaugh fled to his home just one block away from the crime scene. Officers say he emerged from his home several times and appeared to watch the scene unfold as police, crime scene investigators and members of the media gathered nearby. Police eventually surrounded the home where Limbaugh was holed up. He emerged once wearing body armor and pointing a gun to his head, according to police and reporter accounts from the scene. Eventually he went back into the house where he pushed a couch against the doorframe and shot himself once, police said. Around 1:30 a.m., several hours after the initial shooting on Fifth Street, a flash bang went off. Police dressed in tactical gear entered the home where the found Limbaugh’s lifeless body. [caption id="attachment_765743" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]blank Davis Police Department Officer Natalie Corona appears in an undated photography. Photo courtesy Richard Lau Photography/Special to the Express[/caption]

Ambushed

What would provoke someone to target a cop at the scene of a traffic accident less than a block away from their home? For at least two days, investigators tried to piece together the puzzle that was Limbaugh’s life. Over time, small anecdotes about his life gleamed through court filings and other public records began to paint the picture of what could only be described as an emotionally-disturbed individual who went off the rails. Court documents obtained by Express sister publication the Davis Enterprised showed that Limbaugh was ordered to surrender a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle shortly after being convicted of a single misdemeanor battery count, the charge stemming from a fight with a co-worker at the Cache Creek Casino Resort in Brooks where he was employed as a slot machine technician. [caption id="attachment_766061" align="alignright" width="240"]Kevin Douglas Limbaugh appears in an undated booking photo. Photo: Yolo County Sheriff's Department/Handout Kevin Douglas Limbaugh appears in an undated booking photo. Photo: Yolo County Sheriff’s Department/Handout[/caption] Limbaugh’s attorney from the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office told Enterprise reporter Lauren Keene on Saturday that there were “no red flags and what happened [on Thursday] was totally unexpected.” Friends who knew Limbaugh told reporters in various interviews over the weekend that the man who would later be accused of murdering a cop had a good gig at the casino where he made decent money, but that he often complained about how much he hated working there. He lost his ability to work at the casino with his misdemeanor battery conviction when his federal gaming license was revoked late last year. At a press conference on Friday, Chief Pytel said the motive in the case was still unknown, but that shooting “looks like an ambush” and that investigators were speculating that Ofc. Corona “never saw [Limbaugh].” Two days later, police released an unusual note they say was found on Limbaugh’s bed shortly after he shot himself. The note accused Davis police of using “ultra sonic waves meant to keep dogs from barking,” Limbaugh allegedly wrote. “I notified the press, internal affairs and even the FBI about it,” the note said, according to police. “I am highly sensitive to its [effect] on my inner ear. I did my best to appease them, but they have continued for years and I can’t live with this anymore.” [caption id="attachment_766057" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]blank A blue ribbon in honor of fallen Ofc. Natalie Corona is tied to a tree in front of the home where a Davis man suspected of being her killer took his own life. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express[/caption]

A community mourns

Braving cold, rainy weather on Friday, members of the community established two makeshift memorials for a fallen officer whose time as a public safety officer was cut drastically short. At the Davis Police Department’s headquarters on Fifth Street, Chico residents Isabel Espindola and Yadi Flores remembered their long-time friend and former co-worker as a kind, happy person who was eager to serve her community. “She was so excited to start the police academy,” Espindola said. “She always told us how excited she was and how she wanted to just get out there and start her job. And I loved her for it. She was so determined and hard-working.” “There was not a day when you wouldn’t see a smile,” Flores said. “She was such a beautiful person inside and out. I can’t believe she’s gone. It still hasn’t set in yet.” In an interview with the Express, Davis Police Lt. Paul Doroshov said Corona was “the type of cop every town would want, and we were really lucky to have her.” “It’s devastating,” Doroshov said. “We’re not a large law enforcement community, so when this happens, it’s not just us. It touches everybody.” On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a statement saying Corona died protecting her community. “Officer Corona was protecting her community from harm when she was tragically shot by an armed subject,” Newsom said in a press release. “Despite the valiant efforts of paramedics who rushed her to the hospital, and UC Davis Medical Center personnel, she succumbed to her injuries. We join all Californians in mourning the loss of this courageous officer and extend our deepest condolences to Officer Corona’s family, friends, and coworkers.” [caption id="attachment_766059" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mourners leave flowers and other items in front of the Davis Police Department on Jan. 11, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express Mourners leave flowers and other items in front of the Davis Police Department on Jan. 11, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express[/caption]

Pulling together

The last thing Sheriff Lopez expected his first week as the county’s top law enforcement officer was to have to deploy his subordinates to provide cover to a fellow agency grieving the loss of such a young colleague. But that’s exactly what happened Friday evening, and the directive happened quickly: When the Express was on the ground just an hour after the shooting occurred, members of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department were among those on scene providing assistance to their fellow officers in Davis. “When these kind of things happen we pretty much have to pull together,” Lopez said. “Our agency went through this in 2008. It’s earth-shattering and it pretty much cuts the organization at the core, especially when you lose someone so young in their career and their whole life is ahead of them. So we deployed as many resources as possible [Thursday night] to assist.” So, too, did the Winters Police Department. Winters Police Chief John Miller emailed the Express that night to confirm three of his officers had been sent to Davis to help during the manhunt and otherwise patrol the city that night. On Friday, Miller said two officers were committed to Davis for the rest of the weekend, working in rotational 12-hour shifts until at least Sunday morning or as long as the Davis Police Department needed. [caption id="attachment_765722" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]A Winters Police Department vehicle is seen near a command post following the shooting of a Davis police officer on January 10, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express A Winters Police Department vehicle is seen near a command post following the shooting of a Davis police officer on January 10, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express[/caption]

A tragic trend

The fatal shooting of Ofc. Corona is the latest involving police officers killed in the line of duty in California. Last December, Newman Police Ofc. Ronil Singh was fatally shot while conducting a traffic stop in Stanislaus County. The suspect was captured several days later; the case made national headlines after law enforcement officials said the shooting suspect had entered into the country illegally from Mexico. The previous month, Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Helus suffered a fatal gunshot injury while responding to a dispatch of a shooting spree at a bar in Thousand Oaks. Investigators would later determine that Helus was shot several times by 28-year-old David Ian Long, the suspect in the case, but that the bullet that killed Helus was fired by a California Highway Patrol officer who was also on the scene. In August, a Rocklin man was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter after he allegedly crashed into a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer near Fairfield. That officer, Sgt. Kirk Griess, died from his injuries, as did another man at the scene. The suspect, Sean Walker, has entered a plea of not guilty and is awaiting trial. [caption id="attachment_765755" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Crime scene investigators on Friday canvas the scene of where a Davis police officer was fatally shot one day earlier. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express Crime scene investigators on Friday canvas the scene of where a Davis police officer was fatally shot one day earlier. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express[/caption]

Moving forward

On Saturday, hundreds turned out to an impromptu candlelight vigil at Central Park that was organized by a Davis resident on Facebook. Stephanie Teague told the Enterprise she woke up the day after the shooting and felt like she had to do something. “I saw my community mourning and wanting to take action,” Teague said. The vigil quickly went from being a grassroots campaign to a city-sanctioned event, with members of the Davis Police Department, Davis city officials and other elected individuals from throughout the region turning up to pay their respects to the fallen officer. “What brings us together is a really, really sad incident,” Davis Mayor Brett Lee said. “One gathering is not going to change that. However, just seeing all of you here does make a difference.” On Monday, the crime scene tape that had cordoned off chunks of several blocks of Fifth Street through the weekend had come down. A memorial at the scene of where Ofc. Corona was shot had grown so large that a Davis police officer was stationed nearby to make sure nothing happened. Throughout Davis, hundreds of blue ribbons seemingly popped up overnight on everything from lamp posts to fences, traffic signals to trees — including the tree in front of the big blue house where Limbaugh allegedly took his own life, tied by a volunteer who may not have known what transpired there less than a week ago. Inundated with requests about how to help, the Davis Police Department announced they were accepting monetary donations to help the family of Ofc. Corona. Members of the public are invited to mail or hand-deliver checks to the police department’s headquarters at 2600 Fifth Street made out to the “Natalie Corona Memorial Fund.” Police are also preparing for a public ceremony honoring the life of Ofc. Corona. The memorial will be held on Friday, Jan. 18 at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on the campus of U.C. Davis. The service begins at 11 a.m. and members of the public are invited to attend. Information on the public memorial will be posted on a new webpage launched by the City of Davis as plans continue to develop; the city also promises a live web stream will be made available for those who cannot attend.
Lauren Keene, Anne Ternus-Bellamy and Tanya Perez from Express sister-publication the Davis Enterprise contributed to this report. ]]>

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