15 YEARS AGO: Local law enforcement hurriedly evacuates, secures HEW Building | TheUnion.com

15 YEARS AGO: Local law enforcement hurriedly evacuates, secures HEW Building

PETE SKIBA
Staff Writer

Editor's note: This story was originally published Jan. 11, 2001 by The Union.

With Remington pump-action shotguns at the ready, sheriff's deputies took cover behind parked cars and kept their eyes on the windows of the HEW Building in Nevada City. No one knew if the shooter was still in the building at 11:50 a.m.:Firefighters turned away traffic on Willow Valley Road and Lewis Road at the county complex of health, housing and election offices. Red flares burned and radios crackled through the stillness.

Inside the building, county workers waited behind locked doors and under counters.

Nevada County Undersheriff John Trauner walked from his patrol car through the building's parking lot and calmly spoke to the deputies, who covered doors and windows with their weapons. Room by room, the search and evacuation of the facility was under way.

Six uninjured evacuees, the first brought out from the offices, huddled together against the rain. They made their way from the HEW parking lot west up the Willow Valley Road incline.

Shivering against the cold rain and the ordeal, some of the six were trembling into tears.

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"There was a tremendous amount of fire," said John Eby, an HEW crisis counselor. "Not like a submachine gun, but at least eight to 12 shots."

California Highway Patrol officers arrived with lights flashing on black and white patrol cars.

After a quick conference with Sheriff Keith Royal, the CHP officers drove onto the scene and to the HEW Building to support the deputies.

Cell phones did not work for firefighters or police at the scene.

"We found the only spot around where cell phones don't work," said Dennis Cassella, the county's emergency services officer.

A communications van from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection arrived. Willow Valley Road residents Larry and Cecilia Fitzpatrick threw open their garage doors, and a command center was set up.

A household phone was pressed into service to cover the nonfunctioning cell phones.

Battalion Chief David Ray of the Forty-Niner Fire Protection District huddled with firefighters and explained the plan to evacuate the remaining people in the building.

Deputies rescued people from the building and allowed them to leave one by one. People drove off in their cars.

Buses from Gold Country Transit were used to take anyone who needed a ride to the Rood Administrative Center.

The command center for traffic control remained in the Fitzpatricks' garage. An emergency command was set up in the Empire Room at the Rood Administrative Center.

The scene was secure by 3:45 p.m., Ray said.

Deputies were stationed in the HEW Building, and it was secured as a crime scene.

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