UPDATE 8/28/2020: The latest information from authorities is that Matthew David Hays, a 35-year old man who threatened motorists and officers just north of Pearsonville on Monday, August 24, has been arrested today and is no longer “on-the-lam.”
How this played out might be for the best considering he could have been shot and seriously wounded, if not killed, when he confronted officers carrying a black scoped rifle, which later turned out to be a pellet gun.
All the weapons confiscated from the suspect home, including the “black-colored rifle with a scope” found later, and mentioned in the Sheriff’s Office press release on August 25, were Pellet (Air) gun rifles and one BB handgun. While these types of weapons are far from harmless, they are not as dangerous as real hunting rifles that fire real, high-caliber bullets. Nor are they as dangerous at the real handgun used to fire warning shots at the suspect in the original incident by the threatened motorist after the suspect appeared across the highway aiming a scoped-rifle toward their car. The problem: You often cannot tell a “real” gun from a toy gun, or a pellet or BB gun.
Unfortunately, many BB and Pellet rifles look like their very deadly cousins, especially from a distance. That fact has resulted in numerous fatal encounters with police and in homes across the country because many of these BB handguns and air gun rifles do look very much like the “real” guns used for home protection, target shooting, and hunting.
In retrospect, the officers on scene showed remarkable restraint given his aberrant behavior and the suspect was lucky to not have been shot, but was allowed to actually escape despite dozens of officers at the scene, including a SWAT team from the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and use of the CHP helicopter, which had to abandon its surveillance of the suspect to refuel. There was a report that the suspect was known to law enforcement and that may have played a role in their restraint. Someone familiar with the case said that the suspect’s own family has reportedly said that “he has some mental deficiency.” Whether he does or doesn’t, the important thing is that he is off the street.
[“Press Release from Inyo County Sheriff’s Office”: August 25, 2020 3:00 pm]
PEARSONVILLE, CA, August 25, 2020 – On August 24, shortly after 2:00 pm, Inyo County Sheriff’s Deputies were dispatched to the area just north of Pearsonville on highway 395, regarding a report of a man brandishing a firearm.
The reporting party indicated that a white male wearing a straw hat, light colored flannel long sleeve shirt, cargo pants and brown colored hiking boots had approached them on foot out of the desert area near Sterling Road. The man said, “Que pasa,” to the party who had pulled over to change a flat tire. The party explained that they didn’t speak Spanish, and the man walked away.
Moments later the man returned and stood on the opposite side Highway 395. The reporting party observed the male lay down on the ground holding a rifle pointed at the vehicle. The reporting party was alarmed and fired a warning shot from a registered handgun in the air to try and scare off the male. The reporting party described being afraid for their lives and began to slowly drive away southbound without finishing the change of the flat tire.
Further description of the individual with the gun revealed that the suspect was Matthew David Hays, a 35-year old man known to law enforcement. Deputies arrived on scene near Hays’ residence; moments later Hays appeared from his trailer. Deputies observed Hays holding a black colored rifle with a scope. Numerous announcements were made to drop the firearm.
At one point, Hays began running towards law enforcement while holding the rifle and continued holding the rifle at the low ready position with the muzzle end of the rifle slightly raised. Hays eventually began walking off north-westerly into the desert.
A CHP helicopter responded and observed Hays in the desert, still with a rifle. However, the helicopter was forced to refuel and lost sight of Hays.
Mutual aid was requested with Kern County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team along with Inyo County SED team. After SWAT and SED arrived on scene, a search of the area was conducted but the suspect could not be located. A search of an abandoned building nearby revealed the rifle and the suspect’s clothing. A search of the suspect’s residence was also conducted with a search warrant. The search resulted in the recovery of several pellet gun rifles and one bb handgun from the suspect’s residence.
A search of the vast area was conducted to locate the suspect. Due to the expansive territory and nighttime conditions, the search did not locate the suspect. An arrest warrant has been issued for the subject.
The suspect is described as a white male, 6’2”, 165 pounds, brown hair, blue eyes. The public is strongly encouraged to contact the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office at 760-878-0383, option 4, if anyone has any information that can lead to the arrest of Matthew David Hays.
The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office extends its appreciation to the following agencies that assisted last night: Kern County SO, CHP, BLM, Forest Service LEO, Liberty Ambulance, Mono County SO, and Olancha Volunteer Fire Department.