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‘No place is immune’

A shooting rampage 10 years ago in Nevada County drove the point home – even to law enforcement officers – that this quiet rural community was not immune to violence.

After shooting three people the morning of Jan. 10, 2001, at the county Behavioral Health Department, then on Willow Valley Road, Scott Thorpe went to Lyon’s Restaurant, on Nevada City Highway in Grass Valley. There, he shot and killed assistant manager Michael Markle and seriously injured cook Richard Senuty.

California Highway Patrol Lt. David Qualls – who returned to Grass Valley in late 2010 as the local office’s commander – was one of the first on the scene at Lyon’s that day, along with fellow officer Troy Marks and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Battalion Chief Rob Paulus. All three received medals of valor from Gov. Gray Davis.

Qualls and Marks were at Empire Mine State Park when the first calls started coming over the scanner, Qualls recalled Monday – 10 years to the day after the tragic shooting. They started to head to the HEW building, with Qualls driving up Highway 49 at – he estimates now -about 100 mph.

Just as they neared the Dorsey Drive overpass, Marks heard shots had been fired at Lyon’s.

“Troy said, ‘Hit the exit!'” Qualls said.

He pulled off at Brunswick Road, adding, “I thought I was going to crash.”

When they got to the restaurant, they were greeted by a surreal scene, Qualls said.

“People were running out of the building screaming,” he said. “We were stopped in the middle of the street, and people were running past us, still holding their food or their soda glasses.”

One bystander told Qualls and Marks the shooter had gone out the back door, so they circled around.

“I thought, this can’t be happening here – this is Grass Valley,” said Qualls, who grew up in the Sunset View neighborhood off Rough and Ready Highway.

When the two officers got to the back of the building, they found Senuty lying face-up on the ground. Senuty was able to give Qualls a description of Thorpe, and that his assailant had gone back inside.

Peering into the restaurant, Qualls said, “I could see people frozen in their seats.”

Qualls and Marks made the decision to go in. (They didn’t know until much later that, after shooting Senuty out back, Thorpe had re-entered the restaurant, then left through the front door and drove away.)

“It was a scene from hell,” Qualls recalled. “There were plates on the floor, jackets on the floor, people hiding under tables. The phone was ringing and the back door alarm was going off.”

They cleared the bathrooms, finding one man hiding inside, then turned their attention to the kitchen.

“There was food burning on the grill, so the grill alarm was going off,” Qualls said, adding that he was so focused he almost shot Paulus as he came in the restaurant to assist.

Qualls found Markle lying on the kitchen floor.

“I said a prayer for him,” Qualls said, pausing to compose himself. “I told him I was sorry. I knew he was dead.”

The violent scene was an emotional overload for many in local law enforcement – and part of the reason he shifted to administration, Qualls said.

“Even though I was born and raised here, it was a reality check to remember to be vigilant,” Qualls said, “that no place is immune.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.

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