Warner Springs, California

From the March 7, 2007 San Diego Union-Tribune:

WARNER SPRINGS – The owner of Sunshine Summit General Store on state Route 79 shot and wounded two burglars he interrupted in the store early yesterday, sheriff’s officials said.

The owner, whom authorities did not identify, called the Sheriff’s Department about 4 a.m. to report the shooting. He said he was being chased by people in a pickup and that he shot at them, said sheriff’s Lt. William Donahue.

Lt. Tim Curran said the owner went to the store to check on a burglar alarm that had been triggered. He confronted the burglars and fired a handgun at them. Later, two people with multiple gunshot wounds turned up at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. Deputies still were interviewing them last night.

From SignOnSanDiego.com of July 15, 2007

Shots in the dark

Even before the night he shot and nearly killed two burglars, Chris Drake was a man who liked to keep a firearm within easy reach.

He and his wife own a general store 20 miles north of Santa Ysabel on state Highway 79, a two-lane road cutting through a landscape of oak trees, vineyards and livestock grazing in fields of golden grass. Cars brake for deer and wild turkeys.

The Sunshine Summit General Store, located in a hamlet of 260 residents, sells everything from lawn tools and hats to cigarettes and hard liquor. A large blow-up of a Coors beer can hangs from the ceiling.

Like many residents of this rural part of northern San Diego County, Drake, 48, owns a gun – several, actually. The nearest sheriff’s substation is some 20 miles away. As a business owner, he says, he would feel vulnerable without a pistol tucked into his waistband. The store has been burglarized four times since his wife, Sheri, bought it in 2001.

“I don’t think there could be a level of comfort without being armed,” said Drake, who once owned a Long Beach lumberyard and has the leathery complexion of a guy who spends plenty of time in the sun. This particular section of the county, he added, is a bit “like the Wild West.”

Until the pre-dawn of March 6, however, he had never so much as pointed his shotgun or three handguns in the direction of another human being. He had fired his Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver a half-dozen times for practice, but only into a mound of dirt. The five-shot, snub-nosed pistol is notoriously difficult to aim.

In early February, exactly 30 days before the events of March 6, thieves smashed through the Sunshine Summit store’s glass front door in the middle of the night and stole $11,000 in cigarettes, liquor and cash.

That incident, on top of burglaries in 2006 and 2005, left Drake fuming. He later described a feeling of “absolute ire” at having been “violated.”

The early hours of March 6 were clear and frigid, the kind of morning when a person curls up under a second blanket. The moon was bright and nearly full.

At 4 a.m., Drake woke up to go to the bathroom.

The store alarm went off.

To this day, Drake and his wife are amazed at how quickly they mobilized.

In less than a minute, Drake estimates, they grabbed the car keys and the loaded .38-caliber revolver he keeps by his bed. They ran out the door, got into their black Cadillac Escalade, drove around the back of the store and edged into the front parking lot.

He placed the gun on the driver’s seat between his legs.

Slowly, he rolled the sport utility vehicle toward the front of the store. There, they saw a Toyota SUV with a hooded figure in the driver’s seat.

Drake circled his SUV to the edge of the parking lot, keeping a safe distance. As he did so, two other men lugging merchandise ran out of the store. They got into the Toyota, which took off north on Highway 79.

Drake didn’t hesitate. That was his property they were stealing. Hell, these might even be the same burglars who broke into his store the previous month. The February break-in had occurred at the same hour of the morning.

He pulled his SUV onto the highway and stepped on the gas.

The two cars tore down the highway at 100 mph. At least twice, the Toyota made a U-turn and raced past the Drakes’ SUV. Each time, Chris Drake swung around and continued the pursuit.

Finally, the two cars stopped and faced each other. According to Drake, his SUV became stuck on the shoulder of the road, where he had pulled over so the Toyota wouldn’t hit him. At that point, he said, the driver of the Toyota began ramming the Drakes’ front fender and driver-side door.

Drake said he feared for his life. He said he and his wife felt trapped. He was also afraid, he later recalled, that the burglars might be armed and start shooting.

So he grabbed his five-shot pistol, leaned out the driver’s window and fired until his gun was empty. Two shots hit the grille of the Toyota, and three went through the windshield.

The three men in the Toyota panicked. “He’s got a gun!” one of them yelled as the windshield shattered.

The Toyota sped off into the night.

After reviewing the evidence, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office made a decision: The two suspects would be charged with burglary. The Drakes would be charged with nothing.

Nonetheless, when asked whether he might do anything differently, Drake replied, “If my wife and I were ever threatened, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot again.”

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