By KRIS REILLY, LYNNEA LOMBARDO AND TOMOYA SHIMURA
FOR THE LEADER
LUCERNE VALLEY • Shockwaves from the Christopher Dorner showdown were felt across the Victor Valley on Tuesday, with two schools briefly locked down and mountain commuters delayed for hours.
A man authorities believe to be Dorner exchanged fire with law enforcement Tuesday afternoon and barricaded himself inside a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear Lake.
Victor Valley College and Excelsior Charter Schools were briefly placed on lockdown around 1:50 p.m. Tuesday due to the manhunt, VVC Spokesman Bill Greulich said.
Greulich said they received reports that Dorner was headed toward the Mitsubishi Cement plant on Highway 18 in Lucerne Valley — a report that turned out to be unfounded. Excelsior Superintendent William Flynn said that the school was also placed on lockdown because their campus is located on VVC’s campus.
The schools were cleared and taken off lockdown after about 30 minutes.
Lucerne Valley High School Principal Mary Eller said Tuesday afternoon that the campus was not locked down at any time during the school day. Eller said the sheriff’s department had contacted her and told her she would be immediately notified if a lockdown was necessary.
The California Highway Patrol reported Highways 330, 38 and 18 were shut down Tuesday afternoon for more than two hours. Highway 18 was re-opened at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Parked cars lined the uphill lanes of Highway 18 near Camp Rock Road in Lucerne Valley at about 3 p.m. Drivers stood outside their vehicles talking on their cell phones, asking for information on when the road might open.
Peter Sutherland, plant manager of the Omya California limestone mine in Lucerne Valley, stood on an embankment near Highway 18, wondering whether to cancel his dinner plans. Sutherland lives in the Big Bear area, where he planned to meet his wife before going to the Los Angeles area for a charity dinner.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” he said.
Sutherland was reached by phone three hours later, and he said it looked like he was going to make it after all. His wife was able to come down the mountain and meet him after the road re-opened.
Dozens of law enforcement vehicles were seen along Highway 18 in Lucerne Valley and eastern Apple Valley on Tuesday afternoon, including San Bernardino County Sheriff’s patrol cars, CHP units and unmarked vehicles equipped with lights and sirens.
Just before 1 p.m. — minutes after a gunfire exchange had been reported in Big Bear — an unmarked SUV and sedan stopped along the side of Highway 18 near Milpas Road in Apple Valley. A man was seen near the back of the SUV in body armor and a combat helmet. Both vehicles departed the area at high speed with lights flashing, headed in the direction of Big Bear.
A steady stream of police vehicles — including CHP and sheriff’s — sped through Lucerne Valley over the next hour.
By nightfall, the mountain cabin had burned to the ground and Dorner was not seen leaving the home. The manhunt that kept the mountain communities on edge for several days appeared to be over.
The Sutherlands live less than a mile from the area where Dorner was believed to have been hiding out. They said the town was “quiet” in the days since the hunt came to Big Bear. Janine Sutherland said she works at Big Bear High School; the school was locked down Thursday, closed Friday and locked down again Tuesday.
When she got the news that the hunt was likely over, Janine Sutherland said she felt “relief.”