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Alleged Madras gunman in court; customers who hid in KFC freezer praise workers’ quick thinking

(Update: Suspect identified, appears in court; KFC customers thankful workers brought them to freezer)

'If it wasn't for the workers, I don't think we would be sitting here, because that's where the gunshots laid.'

MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) – A 29-year-old man who was shot and wounded by police after he allegedly stole a rifle at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and aimed it at several people on the run has been released from the hospital, jailed and arraigned Monday on attempted aggravated murder and other charges.

Rafael Gomez, identified in court documents as a fugitive from San Diego, made his first court appearance Monday afternoon on the new charges that include attempted aggravated murder, a Class A felony, as well as seven Class C felonies: five counts of unlawful use of a weapon and one count each of felon in possession of a firearm and first-degree theft of the rifle at the fairgrounds on Friday.

The charges will be presented to a grand jury later this week, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brentley Foster said Monday, declining to release any more details until the “use of force" investigation is complete. Judge Annette Hillman set his arraignment on the expected formal indictment for Thursday afternoon.

In the DA’s initial charging document, it noted that Gomez was convicted in March 2019 San Diego of felony vehicle theft.

Online court records show that Gomez, accused of being a fugitive from justice, signed a waiver in Jefferson County Circuit Court last week, agreeing to be extradited to San Diego, where he has been convicted of violating conditions of post-release community supervision. He also pleaded no contest then to second-degree criminal trespass and giving false information to an officer and was given a 20-day jail sentence, with credit for time served.

Meanwhile, two Madras KFC customers at the time the gunman approached late Friday afternoon, Wanda and Duane Matt, recounted Monday for NewsChannel 21 the frightening 10 minutes or so workers who ushered them into the walk-in freezer in a bid for safety.

"I'm one of the few people that could actually see the shooter, because almost everybody had turned around and run," Duane said. "It'll actually be imprinted on in memory forever. I mean, you don't forget someone running straight at the door with a gun, I'll tell you that.

"You know, it's still surreal to this moment," he added. "I don't ever want to see that again either, you know. But it was horrible -- it was just horrible."

Wanda Matt had a message of praise for the restaurant workers that she wanted be sure to share.

"If it wasn't for the workers, I don't think we would be sitting here -- because that's where the gunshots laid," he said. "We were sitting right next to that door. We were right by the door that shattered. We were right there where the blood was. So really, really praise the workers that were there that day."

One night after Gomez fled the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and was shot and wounded by police, Saturday's closing night of the county fair brought another “terrifying” rush to the exits for fairgoers as police investigated reports of shots fired, learning Sunday a home was hit a few blocks away.

Madras Acting Police Chief Steve Webb told NewsChannel 21 Sunday morning that several shots-fired calls came around 10:45 p.m. Saturday and were in the area of the Madras Skate Park on H Street, a few blocks north of the fairgrounds..

Officers with several agencies – an added police presence due to Friday night’s events – searched the area for an hour or more.

“They didn’t find anything (late Saturday night) that indicated they were gunshots,” he said. “They checked areas between the fairgrounds and skate park, between Fairgrounds Road and the H Street area. Nothing was located” -- until Sunday morning.

Webb later said an officer got a call Sunday morning of a house apparently hit in the skate park area, which was discovered in the morning.

“It does appear it was hit with a round,” he told NewsChannel 21, adding that no injuries were reported. “We are in the process of checking people” to see if they hard or saw anything or might have any home-security video.

Police asked anyone in the area of the skate park who might have captured something on a Ring or other security camera around 10:45 or 11 p.m. Saturday to contact Jefferson County dispatchers at 541-475-2201.

Webb said there were “multiple deputies and officers” from several agencies on hand as an added security presence at the fairgrounds on Saturday’s closing night, including Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police.

“We had no indication that anything was going to happen” Saturday night, Webb said. But due to Friday’s frightening incident, their presence was intended to reassure the safety of fairgoers.

“The officer told me this morning they decided to shut things down a little early,” Webb said, though his daughter was watching the rodeo and it appeared to end about 10:45 p.m. as planned.

The acting chief said it was very understandable that “people are on a heightened sense of alert” after Friday’s incident, in which a man reportedly found and took a rifle from a parked pickup and was seen by witnesses trying to load it.

Several individuals reportedly got their handguns and confronted the man, who escaped through a hole in a back fence and ran, leading to the armed man – who reportedly aimed the stolen rifle at several people -- being shot by law enforcement as he tried to enter a fast-food restaurant on Highway 97.

Madras resident Mike Fiala, a retired police sergeant, was back at the fair with his family Saturday night, and had been there Friday evening as well, when shots rang out.

“I’m at the fair with my kids, walking by the animal pen, and heard ‘pop pop pop,’” he recalled of Friday's events. "My daughter was being brought into the fairgrounds by her mother, and I called them and said, ‘'Get out of here!’" His son, meanwhile, was in the carnival, and leaving they encountered the traffic jam.

 “I watched parents throwing their kids over a six-foot fence” to get them to safety, Fiala said.

Then, late Saturday night, his 12-year-old daughter was getting a ride on the Ferris wheel when suddenly, all the rides stopped – and all the rides’ lights went out as well. Then he watched as people were ushered out of the fairgrounds, with everyone scattered and “cops running everywhere” to investigate.

“Tonight, I was just trying to hang out with old friends,” Fiala said. “All of a sudden, the power to the rides all went black, and 8 to 10 cops run by" Fiala and his son.

"Then some guys came up to us and said, 'You need to get out of here!' And I said, 'Well, that’s not going to happen -- my daughter’s up there in the top of that Ferris wheel,'" he recalled. "A couple of guys came up to us and said, ‘Well, we’ll stand here and guard you until you get your daughter off.'”

Eventually, the lights came back on, the ride restarted and she was able to get off the ride so they could leave.

“It was terrifying,” said Fiala, who retired from the Lebanon police force a dozen years ago and moved to Madras to care for his mother.


Earlier info:

A man armed with a rifle at the Jefferson County Fair late Friday afternoon ran from arresting officers and was shot by them as he tried to enter a nearby business, Jefferson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brentley Foster confirmed Friday night. The resulting investigation shut Highway 97 through Madras for several hours.

Law enforcement received a report shortly before 5 p.m. of a man armed with a long rifle at the fair, Foster said.

Madras police officers and Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies quickly found and tried to apprehend the suspect, but he ran from the fairgrounds, Foster said.

The suspect was trying to enter a nearby business, still armed with the rifle, “when he was ultimately shot by law enforcement,” the deputy DA said.

"As required by Oregon law, a use of force investigation has been initiated," Foster wrote, adding, "This investigation is still in very early stages."

"The Tri-County Major Incident Team, comprised of officers from Bend Police Department, Redmond Police Department, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, and the Prineville Police Department, is conducting the investigation," Foster said.

Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to contact Jefferson County non-emergency dispatchers at 541-475-2210.

A video shared with NewsChannel 21 by a nearby Madras resident included sirens punctuated by multiple gunshots. Police cars and others on foot could be seen in the vicinity. Others told NewsChannel 21 of the man pointing his rifle at people and vehicles while fleeing police.

Other reports indicated the suspect then fled down Fairgrounds Road and crossed Highway 97, and that some if not most of the shots occurred near a KFC, where workers reportedly hid in the freezer.

Less than an hour afterward, District Attorney Steve Leriche confirmed to NewsChannel 21 there had been an officer-involved shooting and one person was taken to the hospital.

“Right now, I would say the situation is very much under control,” Leriche said. “There is no known danger to the community.”

“I think any potential threat has been detained,” the DA said, adding that he was awaiting a briefing on further details but that “no law enforcement has been injured.”

Sheriff Jason Pollock referred questions to Leriche, but did tell NewsChannel 21 "I was directly involved in the incident," which is being handled by the Tri-County Major Incident Team.

There was panic for a time among among fairgoers. NewsChannel 21 talked with a vendor who was in a building used to shelter during the incident.

“It was just nuts," said Livingstone Jigsaw vendor Ginger Sanders. "They were cramming 4-H kids in, and there were kids that were really upset, because their animals were outside and they were worried.

"And I remember there was a mom running up and down trying to -- because they had locked people in to secure the building. And she was trying to get out because her kids were out getting food and she was crying and it was just -- well, we didn't know what was happening,” Sanders added.

Elsewhere, Dean Staten told NewsChannel 21 the suspect "came straight through our gas station at Towne Pump" at the corner of Highway 97 and Fairgrounds Road and "pointed his rifle at myself, my co-worker and random people everywhere."

Staten said he was "pointing his gun (at me) and trying to get it to unjam. Police were awesome."

Despite the incident, the county fair continued as planned Friday night.

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts
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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordan here.

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