Fortuna man accused of trying to kill a Fish and Wildlife warden by
firing multiple shots at his patrol vehicle was ordered today to
stand trial on all charges.
Judge Dale Reinholtsen held 25-year-old Shawn Eugene Hof Jr. to answer for attempted murder, assault with a firearm on a peace officer, use of threat or violence against a peace officer, several weapons allegations and spotlighting for wildlife.
attorney Paul Gallegos had argued that the shooter’s identity is in
question, but if Hof was the shooter his only motive was to slow
Warden Matthew Wells down, not kill him. Wells was not hurt and no
bullets hit his truck.
Hof and his close friend Thomas Wheeler allegedly were “spotlighting” for deer on Redwood House Road when Wells spotted them and gave chase with lights and siren. Yesterday Wells testified he was about 10 yards behind the suspect’s truck when a man standing in the truck bed opened fire with a handgun. Then the shooter climbed through a sliding window into the cab and continued firing from the passenger-side window.
During the chase Wheeler’s truck ran off the road and struck a redwood tree. Law enforcement officers found only a puppy in the wrecked pickup, and a loaded Mini-14 Ruger rifle was found outside near the driver’s door.
Today Fish and Wildlife Lt. Adrian Foss testified that he obtained cellphone and Facebook records for both Hof and Wheeler. Hof said little after the incident except one text reading “Oh yeah, they didn’t get the pistol,” which he spelled pstl. There was also some communication about his injured leg. Wheeler told investigators Hof twisted his knee during their escape on foot.
Wheeler provided investigators with a full account of the incident. He also had plenty to say in texts and private Facebook messages to several people. Shortly before the warden began chasing them, he texted someone that he was “hunting up Redwood House (Road) with Shawnshine,” his nickname for Hof. He also said he was “just enjoying spending time with Shawn.”
After the incident, he spoke freely about Hof emptying the whole clip in a .45-caliber handgun, then firing shots from the “Mini.”
“Crazy Fuckers,” the person responded.
“We got away, didn’t we?” Wheeler asked. He bragged he was going to get his truck back “because I reported it stolen.”
He later wrote to another person that he no longer had a truck because Fish and Game had tried to pull them over and “my idiot brother decided to shoot at them with a .45. Now he’s on the run.”
Hof and Wheeler referred to one another as brothers.
Wheeler’s statement to law enforcement is the only direct evidence against Hof. Gallegos tried hard during the preliminary hearing to paint Wheeler as a liar who is “totally incredible.” Yet he also had to rely on Wheeler’s statement in trying to convince the judge that Hof wasn’t trying to kill the warden. Wheeler said Hof was just trying to shoot out the radiator in Wells’ truck to slow him down.
Arguing that Hof should be held to answer, Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada said Hof’s motive was to get away, whether that meant shooting out Wells’ tire or shooting Wells himself. In doing so, he fired “approximately 10 shots.”
Gallegos noted Wells was not able to identify Hof as the shooter. A man who confronted Hof and Wheeler afterward as they walked through his neighborhood could not identify Hof in a photo lineup.
But he did say the man with an injured leg called himself “Shawn.”
Reinholtsen, in making his ruling, stressed that the “probable cause” standard in a preliminary hearing is much lower than the “reasonable doubt” standard applied during a jury trial. Also, although Wheeler’s taped statement implicating Hof was admissible in a preliminary hearing, it would not be allowed as evidence in a trial.
As to whether Hof had the intent to kill, “you can’t get inside someone’s head,” Reinholtsen said. (“But) the discharge of a firearm multiple times at a pursuing vehicle establishes an intent to kill.”
Hof was a fugitive for almost a year before turning himself in on Aug. 10. Today Lt. Foss testified that the day before that, Hof led Fish and Wildlife officers on a high-speed chase on state Highway 36, managing to elude his pursuers after about four minutes.
“I looked down and my speedometer was at over 100 miles per hour,” Foss recalled. “… It ended when we lost sight of the truck.”
Foss said Hof was driving the white Toyota pickup truck. His passenger was Wheeler.
Hof, who remains in custody, is scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 28. Gallegos told the judge he was representing Hof only through the preliminary hearing. A public defender is expected to be appointed at the arraignment.
Wheeler has been charged separately. He also is in custody on several other cases.
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