The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office has determined that an officer-involved shooting in Buellton was a justifiable homicide, DA Joyce Dudley said Wednesday.
Her office conducted an investigation after a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department deputy fatally shot a burglary suspect who led authorities on a high-speed car chase.
Matthew Lyell Berg, 47, of Santa Maria had a long but nonviolent criminal history, consisting mostly of misdemeanor drug-related crimes.
Berg allegedly broke into Los Olivos resident Shirley Thompson’s home around 1 p.m. July 2, stole some jewelry and was caught in the act by Thompson herself, which caused him to flee, according to the District Attorney’s Office investigation.
Thompson’s neighbor saw Berg’s license plate while his car was parked outside the property and notified authorities.
Deputies Dave Wicklund and Jeremy Rogers were involved in the pursuit, in which Berg drove at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour and drove the wrong way on Highway 101 near Buellton.
Wicklund attempted to pull Berg over before Berg made the u-turn to drive northbound on southbound lanes, but Berg evaded him.
Rogers heard about the pursuit on the radio and drove toward the Santa Ynez River Bridge, where Berg had stopped his car and opened his trunk.
As Rogers approached, according to the report, Berg ran and reached into the driver’s seat, which caused the deputy to believe Berg may have been armed.
“Deputy Rogers got out of his car as fast as he could, because he felt he was unsafe inside his car if Berg was getting a weapon,” the report states. “Berg got into his car, turned the steering wheel towards Deputy Rogers and accelerated.”
Rogers fired his weapon eight times toward the oncoming car until the car stopped. He left his own patrol vehicle so quickly that it was left in drive, so it collided with Berg’s car as Rogers was shooting.
When medics and other officers arrived, Berg was pronounced dead at the scene.