Few signs of life exist in the area of Weldon between Kelso Creek and Kelso Valley roads, as it is.
But 15 miles to the south, the area’s patchy fields — dotted with the occasional cow or lonely church — give way to even more desolation. There’s little here but sagebrush and high-desert heat.
That’s where Kern County Sheriff’s deputies, police officers and rangers were scouring the land, east of Lake Isabella, for a suspect who wounded two deputies late Saturday night — a day after a retired Tehachapi dentist was fatally shot in an incident investigators believe may have involved the same man.
Michael Booker, a deputy for more than 10 years, was in stable condition at an Antelope Valley hospital after suffering a gunshot wound during a gunfight between deputies and the wanted man, who is believed to have been connected to the weekend homicide of David Louis Markiewitz, 64.
A second deputy, Jose Perez, was grazed on the ear by a bullet in Saturday night’s exchange of gunfire.
Ryan Dunbier, a senior deputy with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, said Perez and Booker were in a vulnerable situation that also endangered dozens of law enforcement officers as they looked for the suspect.
Sunday, in the open sun, with few tree lines to protect them, they searched the mountainous region in teams of about 15 SWAT members each, their bulletproof vests secure, their adrenaline pumping.
The high-stress search “mentally drains you,” Dunbier said, noting that officers rotated shifts of between four and six hours during the day.
They were looking for a man described as 30 to 35 years old, 5-foot-8, and 160 pounds with long brown hair, blue eyes and olive green fatigues. Sheriff’s officials say he also may be connected to the east Kern County kidnapping of three men who managed to escape.
The exchange of fire took place when deputies from the Sheriff’s SWAT team followed the suspect’s tracks to a ranch at about 8:20 p.m Saturday at Kelso Valley and Jawbone Canyon roads.
The suspect used a large-caliber handgun, Dunbier said. It was not clear if he was wounded in the fight.
By noon on Sunday, deputies from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, rangers from the U.S. Forest Service, officers from the Bakersfield Police Department’s SWAT team and officers from the Ridgecrest Police Department were all involved in the manhunt, which covered five to eight square miles of rugged terrain.
That list later grew to include the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which supplied night vision equipment; the California City Police Department, which brought armored equipment; and state and federal forestry, fish and game officers, who also helped in the search.
In all, more than 60 personnel from at least eight agencies were involved in the search — not including search and rescue volunteers and other organizers.
A team of about 10 members of a Bakersfield chapter of the American Red Cross supplied cots, sandwiches and snacks. And air support for the search was being provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Law enforcement workers and volunteers operated from a command post at the South Fork Elementary School, 6401 Fay Ranch Road, about 15 miles north of the Jawbone Canyon area.
Markiewitz, a Mojave native, was identified Saturday by a family member and the Kern County Coroner’s office as the slain man whose body was found late Thursday in a cabin in Weldon.
Deputies advised residents to stay in their homes and lock their doors. Dunbier warned residents not to confront the suspect if they find him.
“He’s considered armed and dangerous at this point,“ Dunbier said.
Officials closed schools running summer programs — Piute Mountain Elementary, South Fork Elementary and South Fork Middle — until further notice.
They hoped to make a safe arrest without further gunfire.
“We’re out here for the long haul,” Dunbier said.