Robin Samas watched as his next-door neighbor and close friend confronted Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies in the street Sunday night.
“There was a barrage of gunshots, and then he dropped to the ground,” said Samas.
Two deputies fired at William Eugene French, 49, after he reportedly approached their patrol cars with a handgun, refusing to comply with repeated instructions to stop and drop his weapon. Samas said it appeared French wanted to die.
French lived with his elderly father and mother in the 3400 block of Morrow Street, in Arden Arcade.
A dispatcher received a call from French’s mother at approximately 9:20 p.m. Sunday night. The dispatcher could hear an argument on the other end of the phone line, but the nature of the dispute remains uncertain.
A deputy arrived on Whitney Avenue, around the corner from the Frenches’ home. While the deputy was waiting for support, he heard loud yelling. He turned the corner onto Morrow Street, where French was standing outside his house with a rifle, said Sheriff’s Department spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos.
French reportedly shot at the sheriff’s deputy, striking his vehicle. The deputy returned fire.
Both retreated French toward his house, and the deputy onto Whitney Avenue.
Samas came outside of his house, thinking that French was lighting fireworks in advance of Fourth of July. Another deputy arrived on the scene. Samas saw French walking toward the deputies’ vehicles on Whitney.
According to Ramos, French was carrying a handgun, which deputies later recovered.
French had his arms straight up in the air, said Samas, who heard him saying, “Make it happen!” and “Let’s do this!”
“I was yelling, ‘Don’t, Bill!’ but it was too late,” Samas said.
When French did not comply with the deputies’ instructions, they stepped out of their vehicles and shot him, Ramos said.
Ramos said French was walking “aggressively” toward the deputies, but Samas said French’s pace was unhurried.
Samas, 46, said he was surprised by his friend’s behavior.
“He was just the nicest guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back,” he said of French.
He described French as a large, outgoing man who owned a dog and a motorcylce and cared for his elderly parents.
Lynne McMorine, 74, French’s other next-door neighbor, said he had helped her rescue her poodle when it fell into her swimming pool once in the middle of the night last year. McMorine wrote him a thank-you letter and baked him cookies, and he replied by leaving a kind note in her mailbox.
Yet McMorine also said French had “a terrible temper.” He had been in a foul mood that day, she said, earlier yelling at her dog and at his own.
“It was almost like he had two personalities,” she said.
The deputies involved in the incident have served with the department for 13 and 14 years.
Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the result of an investigation by the department’s Homicide Bureau and Professional Standards Division, which is the department’s routine procedure for addressing officer-involved shootings.