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Man who reported Dorner's burning truck applies for reward

The truck belonging to Christopher Dorner is towed to a police command center at Bear Mountain Ski Resort. Police say Dorner burned the truck and a hunt for the suspect is ongoing.
The truck belonging to Christopher Dorner is towed to a police command center at Bear Mountain Ski Resort. Police say Dorner burned the truck and a hunt for the suspect is ongoing.
Grant Slater/KPCC

The man who first reported the burning truck that ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner dumped in Big Bear is one of the applicants vying for reward money.

Daniel McGowan was working at the Snow Summit ski resort in Big Bear on Feb. 7 when he came across the burning truck at 8:30 a.m., according to his application with Los Angeles County. He told the Snow Summit’s security office about the burning truck; security officers notified the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. Deputies cordoned off the area after finding weapons inside the truck.

Attorney Daniel Romey submitted an application on McGowan's behalf to L.A. County and Riverside County, which have separate reward guidelines and applications. Romey wrote that the discovery initiated a focused search for Dorner.

“It gave the police their first solid evidence of the status of Christopher Dorner in Big Bear Lake along with an assessment of what weapons he either had or left behind,” he wrote.

Romey added that finding the burning truck gave law enforcement an assessment of Dorner’s situation.

“At that point, the police knew he was on foot resulting in a massive police presence and manhunt in Big Bear Lake,” he wrote.

Multiple rewards require multiple applications

L.A. County’s deadline for the $100,000 Dorner reward is July 12. Its guidelines allow the Board of Supervisors to decide if the reward can be split among claimants and paid without a conviction.  

Riverside County also has its own $100,00 Dorner reward. Claimants must file directly with that county. The Board of Supervisors will determine who gets that money. So far, two people have applied: McGowan and R. Lee McDaniel, the man who spotted Christopher Dorner at a gas station in Corona. 

The City of Los Angeles has its own $100,000 Dorner reward. Claimants must file separately with the L.A. City Clerk. The filing period ends on Aug. 15.

All of this makes for a complicated process thsat began when the $1 million reward first announced by L.A Mayor Antonio Viaraigosa on Feb. 11. That money was pooled from local governments, police unions and private sources. Some of those donors have since dropped out, but Villaraigosa has said the reward offer still stands at $1 million.

On Apr. 5, the LAPD announced specific criteria that spells out who is eligible to apply, how to apply and how the reward money will be distributed.

Lawsuit from one applicant

The guidelines left unanswered questions for Rick Heltebrake, the man Dorner apparently carjacked near Big Bear before authorities cornered the ex-cop in a cabin Feb. 12.

His attorney Allen Thomas announced Friday that he would file a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles seeking the entire $1 million dollar reward for Heltebrake.

Thomas said the city’s procedure would not allow Heltebrake to present evidence directly to the panel of retired judges who would determine in secret who gets the money. He said the city’s mandate that each applicant agree to waive an appeal or lawsuit was a breach of the city’s contract and a violation of his client’s rights.

“If the City can walk away from the Mayor’s offer of a one million dollar reward, then the reward process is a mockery and the Mayor’s word is meaningless,” Thomas said in a news release.

It’s unclear how the lawsuit would affect the $1 million Dorner reward or the City of L.A.’s $100,000 individual reward offer.