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TURLOCK, Calif. -- A man parked his truck on a country road outside Turlock on Saturday night, removed a baby boy from a car seat and then beat the child to death in the street, fighting off passers-by who tried to stop him, until he was gunned down by a police officer whose helicopter landed in a nearby pasture, police said Sunday.
The 27-year-old suspect, who lived in Turlock Stanislaus County, died almost immediately where he fell. The child, who according to police appeared to be 12 to 24 months old, was taken to a hospital but died before arrival.
Police officials declined to identify the man and said they were not yet certain who the child was - or in what way, if any, he was related to his attacker. The Stanislaus County coroner's office told police that the agency may have to identify the boy through a DNA test because he was beaten beyond recognition.
No information was immediately available about the child's mother.
The suspect "had tunnel vision," said Stanislaus County sheriff's Deputy Royjindar Singh, a department spokesman. "As people tried to intervene, to tackle him, he just went back to what he was doing. Anything and everything he could do to the baby, that's what he was doing."
Singh said investigators were working hard to answer a series of questions about the shocking case, including why the suspect stopped in the roadway, where he was coming from and where he was going. Singh said he did not know whether the suspect was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The beating and subsequent shooting by police happened near a dairy ranch along two-lane West Bradbury Road, between South Blaker Road and South Central Avenue, in an unincorporated area about 10 miles west of downtown Turlock and 20 miles south of Modesto. The rural road, which extends straight west from Highway 99, has no streetlights.
Singh said an elderly couple driving along West Bradbury Road just after 10 p.m. made the first 911 call to police, reporting that the suspect's four-door Toyota pickup truck was parked facing west in the eastbound lane. According to the caller, the suspect was behind the truck, where he was brutally beating the boy.
The couple had poor cell phone reception and did not give authorities a precise address, delaying the response by a few minutes, Singh said. But soon, he said, others called as well, and some witnesses stopped and tried to halt the attack on the child, who was shaken, punched, kicked and stomped on the pavement.
"One person tried to intervene, and the suspect pushed him off and continued assaulting the baby," Singh said.
By 10:13 p.m., a county dispatcher had confirmed the correct location and broadcast it, Singh said, but it was so remote that the first officers to arrive were aboard a Sheriff's Department helicopter that had been patrolling over Turlock. The pilot, a sheriff's deputy, and the tactical flight officer, a Modesto city police officer, landed in a cow pasture just off the roadway at about 10:19 p.m., Singh said.
The flight officer then ran about 20 yards toward the suspect and, while standing behind the pasture's fence, ordered him to stop beating the child, who was on the ground, Singh said.
"He refuses to comply with the orders, and the officer fires," he said, "resulting in the death of the suspect."
Firefighters from a nearby station arrived a few minutes later and tried desperately to resuscitate the child. The boy was then rushed to Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock. Despite this effort, Singh said that the child died before arrival at the hospital.
By the time the ambulance had left the scene, Singh said, almost a dozen people had witnessed some part of the incident, with at least two trying to physically stop the suspect.
"The two officers on the helicopter, they were pretty shook up about it," Singh said. "We have to kind of expect this in our line of work. But for people who were just driving home, they weren't prepared for this. They're watching a helpless baby die in front of them and they're trying to intervene, but all their efforts aren't doing anything."