YUCCA VALLEY — A 36-year-old man died in a gun battle with sheriff’s deputies at the end of a chase that spanned from Apple Valley to Yucca Valley Sunday night.
The county Sheriff’s Department said Anthony Joseph Watkins, who lives in Lucerne Valley, was pronounced dead in the cab of the semi truck cab after he and deputies shot at each other on Twentynine Palms Highway.
A handgun was found inside the cab, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
One sheriff’s deputy was hurt when Watkins rammed into a patrol vehicle, but he did not require medical attention at a hospital, said Jodi Miller, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department.
The incident began at 9:39 p.m. Sunday in the county area of Apple Valley when a neighbor saw a white semi truck cab parked at a home on Jupiter Avenue. “He knew the truck didn’t belong at that house,” Miller said.
Suspecting a residential burglary was about to happen or underway, sheriff’s deputies from the Victorville station responded. Watkins drove away from the home and the person who called in the report followed, giving deputies a description and location.
Deputies found the semi and activated their lights and sirens, but the driver did not pull over, and a chase began. A Sheriff’s Department helicopter crew was called in and flew overhead.
On Highway 18 at Pioneer Road, east of Lucerne Valley, sheriff’s deputies tried to lay down a spike strip. Miller said Watkins veered toward a deputy who was deploying the spikes.
Watkins continued driving onto Old Woman Springs Road and deputies began to lay another spike strip down on that highway at Linn Road.
“The suspect at that time fired shots at deputies,” Miller said.
A deputy inside the helicopter saw Watkins shoot at deputies and got permission from the watch commander to fire at the truck. The deputy shot at the truck “in an effort to disable it,” Miller said.
She did not say if the truck was hit by the deputy’s bullets, but the pursuit continued into Yucca Valley, where Watkins turned west onto Twentynine Palms Highway with deputies from Victorville, Apple Valley and the Morongo Basin sheriff’s stations in pursuit and helicopters flying overhead.
Watkins made a U-turn on the highway at or near Piñon Drive and began driving directly at deputies, Miller said.
The deputies crossed over the median to avoid him and Watkins followed, ramming a marked patrol unit and dragging it along the side of the truck cab, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Miller said Watkins shot at the deputy inside the unit and the deputy returned fire. The deputy was not hit, although he was slightly hurt in the collision.
The truck went up onto a sand berm on the south side of the highway west of Camino del Cielo and came to a rest.
Deputies fired at him and he was hit, Miller said.
Watkins was pronounced dead at the scene and the call ended at 11:43 p.m.
His body has been taken to the Riverside County coroner’s office.
People in the neighborhoods around the shooting saw helicopters shining spotlights into the desert and believed there may have been a second suspect on the loose. Miller said that wasn’t the case. “There are no other suspects,” she said.
An extensive investigation was launched with homicide detectives and Scientific Investigations Division technicians covering the scene, leaving clusters of yellow and orange evidence markers on the highway.
“It is a very meticulous process,” Miller said. “You can’t disrupt part of the scene to get to another part of the scene.”
The semi-truck has not been reported stolen, but investigators are continuing to look into whether it was stolen and had not been reported, according to Miller.
The highway was closed at Camino del Cielo and Fairway Drive until about 2 a.m. Tuesday.
The Sheriff’s Department identified Watkins as a transient, but his mother, Kelly Ayotte, called the Hi-Desert Star Wednesday to say that wasn’t true; he had a home in Lucerne Valley, she said.
Ayotte is making funeral arrangements for her son and wondering why.
“He’s never been violent before, ever, ever, ever,” she said. “I don’t know why this happened. I have no clue.”
Court records indicate Watkins was charged with misdemeanor burglary in April in the Victorville courthouse. He was due to be arraigned Oct. 22.
He was also due in Victorville court Oct. 7 for a pretrial on misdemeanor child cruelty and drug possession charges.
He was out of jail on a $50,000 bond.
Ayotte, who insisted her son did not physically abuse a child, acknowledged the specter of returning to jail may have been part of the reason for her son’s actions.
“He did not want to go back to jail, so I’m sure there’s a reason,” she said.
“I think he got in over his head. … Out of my three boys, he was the most sensitive kid of all three.”
Anyone with information for the investigation is asked to call Detective T. Phillips at (909) 387-3589 or leave an anonymous tip at (888) 782-7463 or www.wetip.com.