Fire may have sparked fatal shooting in Auburn

Woman whose home burned knew victim, gunman
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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When Harlene Zimmerman opened her door at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, answering frantic knocks of her neighbor, she said she felt intense heat and saw a fire unlike any other she had seen, with 50-foot flames rising from the outbuilding where her daughter lives.

Though her daughter had not been at the Millertown Road residence in Auburn at the time and no one was injured, police said the nearby fatal shooting they responded to about 80 minutes later on Bald Hill Road may have been related.

An altercation may have stemmed from one man driving to the other’s home to accuse him of starting the fire at the residence of Zimmerman’s daughter, who they both knew, said Lt. Mark Reed, Placer County Sheriff’s office public information officer.

“We have heard from some of the involved parties during our investigation that may have been the reason the guy came over there,” Reed said. “But we have nothing that said he did or did not set that fire. Cal Fire will have to do the investigation on that.”

Placer County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a home off Bald Hill Road after several callers reported hearing gunshots. Upon arriving, deputies found the man who lived there dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, and the victim he shot drove himself to the hospital, had surgery and is expected to survive, police said.

The two men reportedly had been in a dispute, and when the victim arrived at the man’s house, he had been shot before he could get out of his truck, police said.

“There was talk that (the fire on Millertown Road) might have been part of the dispute,” Reed said. “The man that went to the Bald Hill home, that might have been part of it – to find out or accuse him of setting that fire.”

Cal Fire and Placer County Sheriff’s deputies had been at the Millertown Road home throughout Monday. The upper level living quarters is a complete loss, but some of the lower level is able to be salvaged, Cal Fire said.

“We’re working with the Sheriff’s office on a couple leads, but nothing we can say at the moment,” Cal Fire Cpt. Bill McKenzie said.

Police have not released the names of the men involved in the shooting, pending notification of next of kin.

Zimmerman, 70, said she moved with her late husband Dan to Auburn 40 years ago when her daughter, Kristen, was born and her son, Doug, has since moved elsewhere in town.

Zimmerman said she has “some ideas” of what the cause of the fire may be, but declined to say what they were. She said her daughter knew both victims of the shooting, and the alleged shooter had been a friend of 13 years.

He appeared to have problems with alcohol, she said, and also has a criminal past.

“Something happened to him,” she said. “He got crazy in a week.”

Zimmerman is recovering from heart surgery after a recent heart attack. While she was in the hospital early December, the man from Bald Hill Road visited.

“He always treated me like a lady. He was always very nice to me, and Kristen and him came home and they decorated the tree, it looked nice, and went home,” she said. “The next night, Kristen went back out to see me and he – you guys won’t believe this – he broke into my house and was robbing me.”

Court records show the Bald Hill Road resident had been arrested on four felony charges on Dec. 6: Theft or embezzlement by a noncaretaker, burglary, grand theft firearm/animal/auto and felon/addict/etc. in possession of a firearm. He also had been charged with misdemeanor vandalism.

Records show he had been released from jail on Wednesday, though it is unclear whether he posted his $50,000 bond, and he had been scheduled back in court on Jan. 16 for an early status conference.

It’s the latest in a history of arrests dating back to 2000, according to court records.

In 2011, he had been charged with vandalism and was served with a domestic violence protective order. In 2010, he spent 15 days in jail and completed a drug and alcohol education program in a sentence related to charges from resisting, obstructing and battery of an officer.

He also has been arrested for driving under the influence in 2000 and 2005.

Before the Ball Hill Road man turned the gun on himself Sunday, he called police saying he had shot another man, and then he called some family members, Reed said.

The victim, who Zimmerman described as “nice,” had started coming around more recently, bringing along his “precious” daughter who turned 7 on Monday, Zimmerman said.

Kristen Zimmerman spent the night in a motel provided by Red Cross, her mother said.

She said her daughter went to visit the victim in the hospital.

“Kristen went to see him (Sunday) night and he was stable, thank God, but he was in ICU,” Zimmerman said. “So he’s going to make it, I think.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews