The suspect in a shooting and carjacking spree that shut down the Yolo Causeway for hours and spurred a two-county manhunt Friday died in a shootout with Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies, authorities confirmed.
Sacramento County coroner’s officials identified him as 38-year-old Jimmy Lee Graves of Sacramento.
West Sacramento police Sgt. Nathan Steele said Graves died at the scene of the confrontation, which occurred about an hour after he barricaded himself and started a fire inside an apartment complex in the 1900 block of Ethan Way in Sacramento’s Arden-Arcade neighborhood.
His death culminated a 14-hour saga that began with shooting at a West Sacramento machine shop and was followed by three carjackings, a six-hour freeway closure that snarled traffic much of the day and disrupted neighborhoods as police from nine law-enforcement agencies searched for the suspect.
Sacramento Superior Court records show Graves was due to be tried on robbery and aggravated battery charges early next month. His criminal history dates back to 1992 and includes several burglary convictions.
The incident started shortly before 6 a.m., when two employees of B&R Head and Block Repair, a machine shop on West Sacramento’s Harbor Boulevard, interrupted a burglary.
One of the workers, who declined to give his name, said he had just walked in the door and set down his lunch pail when he heard his coworker cry out in surprise.
“I looked at the doorway (of an upstairs office) and saw the muzzle flash,” the man said as he stood near yellow crime-scene tape that surrounded his workplace Friday afternoon. He recalled diving to the floor before hearing the gun go off three times, then twice more as he got up and ran out the door.
His first thought: “Get the hell out of here.”
As West Sacramento police responded to the scene, they got word of a carjacking taking place in the area of Poplar Avenue and West Capitol Avenue, Steele said. Officers chased the vehicle, a Ford Focus, until the suspect fled on foot and carjacked a white Ford truck.
Steele said the suspect — believed to be Graves — rammed a police car and shot at officers as they continued to pursue him onto westbound Interstate 80. As the chase neared the Yolo Causeway, the stolen truck crashed into the center divider, and the man fled into the Yolo Wildlife Area.
That move resulted in the closure of I-80 between West Sacramento and Davis, leaving hundreds of motorists stranded and others late for their destinations as they were rerouted to Interstate 5.
As authorities searched the causeway area by land and air, Graves apparently hot-wired a tractor, using it to travel from the wildlife area to Old River Road and County Road 127. There, he struck a birdwatcher over the head and stole his third Ford — an F-150 — at about 10 a.m. The carjacking vicitm was taken to an area hospital, Steele said.
SWAT officers searched the Yolo Wildlife Area for a quarter-mile on both sides of the causeway before declaring the area safe at about 12:30 p.m., allowing traffic to travel through the area for the first time in more than six hours.
Back on Harbor Boulevard, West Sacramento police established a perimeter around the machine shop in response to reports that as many as two more burglars were still inside. The area remained closed off, with flash-bang devices occasionally rocking the neighborhood, before authorities cleared the scene at about 2:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the third stolen Ford was found abandoned in the area of Lerwick and Morse avenues in North Sacramento, where authorities briefly detained a man who was later found not to be involved in the crime spree. Officers continued to search the area before tracking Graves to the Ethan Way apartment complex.
Laurie San Martin, associate professor in the UC Davis music department, realized something unusual was happening when she left her home in Woodland to take her two children to school.
“At about 7:55 a.m., I got on Highway 113 going south, and I didn’t encounter any traffic in that direction. But when I went past the Main Street interchange, I looked at the northbound traffic on the other side,” San Martin said. “I saw that the cars were completely stopped, and traffic was backed up for two miles.”
Commuter Amanda Caraway found herself right in the middle of the traffic mess. She was driving from her home in Sacramento to UC Davis for her job as public relations coordinator at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. The Enterprise reached Caraway on her cell phone around 1 p.m. Friday, when she was still on the road, trying to get to work.
“In the morning, a co-worker called me, and warned me, ‘Don’t get on the road to work yet.’ We decided to wait a little bit and see what’s going on,” Caraway said. “Around 10 or 10:15 a.m., we heard on the news that traffic on I-5 was clearing up, so we started out. That was two-and-a-half hours ago! I am about to exit in Woodland to take 113 to Davis.”
Caraway added that she is familiar with the route, because “I usually go this way on Fridays — but in reverse, from Davis to Sacramento after work, because I-80 is such a nightmare on Friday evenings with all the people heading to the mountains.”
Pam Mari, director of student services at the Davis Joint Unified School District, said the causeway’s long shutdown triggered teacher absences at just about every school.
“We had eight teachers out at Birch Lane Elementary, and about 60 teachers out districtwide,” Mari said. “But that is not a particularly unusual number on a Friday. Fortunately, we had approximately 15 roving substitute teachers who were already at several campuses, because some schools are currently doing standardized testing. Those schools were able to use the roving subs in classrooms where the regular teacher couldn’t make it.
“At the junior high school and high school campuses, the class periods where the regular teacher wasn’t present were filled by other teachers who would normally be having a prep period at that time,” Mari said.
Mari said that the schools on the east side of town — Korematsu Elementary, Harper Junior High, Pioneer Elementary and Montgomery Elementary, which were closest to the area of police activity on the causeway — sent automatic phone calls or emails to parents, advising them that the school district was aware of the highway closure, and was prepared to implement a lockdown at school if asked to do so by law enforcement authorities.
But no lockdown was ever ordered.
An Enterprise reporter on assignment at Yolo Superior Court on Friday heard several reports of attorneys being delayed for court hearings because they were stuck in traffic.
Some Davis residents were lucky enough to learn about the traffic situation early on and avoided getting onto the freeway altogether.
Davis school board member Richard Harris never left home for his office at Nossaman LLP in Sacramento, where he is a senior policy adviser.
“I was starting out kinda late, because I had been up late at the school board meeting the night before,” Harris said. “However, my wife rides her bike to work. But on Friday morning, when she was approaching the causeway on her bike, she got turned back. So she got out her cell phone and called me. That’s how I found out.”
Harris checked with his office in Sacramento, and ended up doing some of his work by phone and online, rather than running the risk of spending an hour, or several hours, tied up in traffic.