Butte County Sheriff Scott MacKenzie stated, “These are the darkest days in the history of Butte County,” as he spoke at funeral services for Lt. Leonard B. “Larry” Estes and Deputy William R. “Bill” Hunter on Aug. 2.
Lieutenant Estes and Deputy Hunter were ambushed and fatally wounded Thursday, July 26, as they entered a cabin in the Inskip area of Paradise ridge and were met with a barrage of gunfire. Hunter died instantly. Estes returned fire and fatally wounded the suspect, Richard Bracklow, before succumbing to his wounds.
Hunter took the original report of an assault and theft of weapons at the Magalia substation and asked for cover. Estes, en route to an internal affairs interview, was nearby and told dispatch he would back up Hunter. He reportedly pulled to the side and put on his bulletproof vest.
Hunter interviewed Bob Duffey, 89, regarding a heated argument he had with Bracklow, 46, over rent money owed to Duffey. When Estes arrived the officers proceeded to Bracklow’s residence. They entered the dimly-lit cabin but barely made it past the threshold. Bracklow shot Hunter, who was in the lead, three times in the head. Hunter was unable to get off a shot.
Estes emptied six rounds from his personal .45-caliber handgun, striking Bracklow three times in the chest area and grazing the suspect’s shoulder with a fourth shot. A seventh round jammed in his weapon. Estes was struck four times in the arm, chest and head as Bracklow emptied his 9mm, Glock semi-automatic handgun.
Estes and Hunter had radioed dispatchers shortly after 6 p.m. that they would “attempt to make contact with the subject.” It was their last transmission.
Investigators stated that they believed that Hunter, Estes and Bracklow were only two to three feet apart and that Estes and Bracklow were practically toe-to-toe, gun-barrel-to-gun-barrel during the final, fatal exchange.
California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Attorney General Bill Lockyer spoke briefly at funeral services held for Estes and Hunter at the Neighborhood Church in Chico Aug. 2.
Bustamante lauded the bravery and dedication of the fallen officers. “They gave us the ultimate, eternal sacrifice,” he said. “They chose to protect our community, our families, our state.”
Lockyer next spoke on “Behalf of the 34 million Californians who join you at this time to honor Bill and Larry. They were special people that thought public service and duty matter.”
Sheriff McKenzie read a letter from Gov. Gray Davis expressing regret for the “devastating loss to you and the department.”
Nearly 4,000 uniformed law enforcement officers and fire officials from as far north as Portland and Gresham, Ore., and as far south as San Diego and San Bernardino counties, gathered to honor the Butte County sheriff’s deputies, packing the church and leading the caskets during a seven-mile processional.
Hundreds of people stood along the route to get a glimpse of the long public safety motorcade and to express their gratitude and sorrow. Many waved small American flags.
Lt. Leonard B. “Larry” Estes
Former Butte County Sheriff Mick Gray spoke in length about Lieutenant Estes in his eulogy stating, “He was a living legend, known for a great sense of humor and his very funny practical jokes.”
Estes, 61, who joined the Butte County Sheriff’s Department as a regular deputy sheriff in 1973, worked patrol in the Paradise area for more than 10 years before spending the next four years at the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force. He returned to ridge patrol for two years.
Estes was promoted to sergeant in 1991 and transferred to investigations in 1994. A year later he was promoted to lieutenant and named chief deputy coroner of the county.
Gray told the audience that Estes was promoted to assistant sheriff, the highest non-elected position in the department, in 1998.
He said that “If the measure of the wealth of a man is the number of friends he has, Larry was a wealthy man.”
Concluding, Gray turned to the officers he once led and said: “My hope is you will preserve his legacy.” Turning to the Estes family, he said, “My hope is your pain will be relieved by the grace of God.”
Gray, a close friend of Estes, concluded by saying, “Larry loved life. He was a man who was the stuff of legends.”
Deputy William R. “Bill” Hunter
Sheriff Scott MacKenzie eulogized Deputy Hunter, stopping numerous times to compose himself.
MacKenzie told the mourners that Hunter had shown great promise in his three years with the department. He said that his last evaluation found him intelligent, calm and likeable, that he was slightly ahead of deputies with similar experience and that he had a bright future in law enforcement.
Hunter, 26, and his wife, Holly, were to have celebrated their first wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks.
Holly Hunter described her husband, “He was the most generous, kind, giving man and he treated everyone with respect. He believed in what he was doing, his job. He believed in the honor and the code (of law enforcement).”
“Hunter grew up in Plumas County and was very fond of his dogs,” MacKenzie said. He was “elated” to learn that he had been chosen for the department’s newest K-9 team and was set to begin training with a German shepherd named Ilo. Ilo attended the funeral service. The Sheriff’s Office has allowed Hunter’s wife to keep the dog as her pet.
MacKenzie concluded his eulogy by saying, “I feel very fortunate to have known Bill Hunter.”
Members of the Butte County Honor Guard removed the caskets and escorted them inside. Pallbearers for Estes were Sgt. Tony Burdine, retired deputy Roger Levy, retired reserve officer Al Imoff, firefighter Jim Collins and Russ Holdridge. Pallbearers for Hunter were Sgt. Butch Ellis, and Deputies Jay Waananen, Bryan Marshall, Scott Krelle, Travis Winebarger and Jim Norman.
Estes was the driving force behind the creation of the honor guard about eight years ago and was its only commander.
Hundreds of officers filed past Estes’ and Hunter’s caskets as the funeral came to an end, some touching them or saluting the deputies. More than 100 police dogs also filed by.
Outside, the two deputies received the tribute of a 21-gun salute as the Honor Guard put the coffins into hearses. Taps were played.
A squadron of five helicopters, two from BCSO, and one each from CDF, California Highway Patrol and Enloe Medical Center, flew over the church. One of the BCSO helicopters veered out of formation in honor of officers lost in battle.
Bob Duffey’s daughter, Marie, stated, “The tragic deaths of sheriff’s Lt. Larry Estes and Deputy William Hunter highlight the danger faced by law enforcement daily. But the sacrifice of these officers has personal meaning for my family and me.
“It was a call from my father that brought the deputies to Inskip that afternoon. It was in his defense that the two went into the red cabin to deal with the man who assaulted him. No one could have anticipated that, in that quiet and peaceful mountain setting, something so awful would happen.
“There is no way we can repay the debt to Larry Estes and William Hunter. What we can do is pay tribute to these two heroes, and offer our respect to their fellow officers still in the field doing their job everyday. These men and women never know when or where they will face a life-threatening situation which may require the ultimate sacrifice.”
In the history of Butte County Sheriff’s Department, Hunter and Estes were the second and third deputies to die in the line of duty. Deputy Randy Jennings was killed May 21, 1997, while chasing a domestic-violence suspect in Thermalito.
Estes is survived by his wife, Carolyn, and children, Brian, Jennifer and Darren. In addition to his wife, Holly, Hunter is survived by his parents, Tom and Barbara Hunter; and brothers, Richard and Kevin. Both brothers are employed in law enforcement in Butte and Plumas counties.
Both families held private services Thursday and Friday. Memorial donations in the name of Lt. Larry Estes can be made to Butte Community Bank in Magalia, 14115 Lakeridge Circle, Magalia, CA 95954. Donations to the Estes fund will be donated to Butte County Search and Rescue.
Memorial donations in the name of Bill Hunter may be made by check payable to the Deputy Hunter Memorial Fund and mailed to the Newton Bracewell Funeral Home, 680 Camellia Way, Chico, CA 95926. Donations to the Hunter fund will be used to provide scholarships to men and women embarking on a career in law enforcement at Butte College.