A great deal of controversy, shock and confusion has surrounded the death of 18-year-old Zac Champommier an honor student, self-described band geek who played the sax and the viola in the Granada Hills High School marching band, and graduated this past June and was to have entered college in the fall. After college graduation, he wanted to travel, meet new people, fall in love, and eventually own a book store, according to his MySpace musings. (Zac is shown above in a video collage made by one of his friends for his memorial.)
Instead, on the night of June 24th, Zac went to meet a friend in the parking lot behind the Chipotle Mexican Grill at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, but somehow unaccountably ended up hitting a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy with his car. The deputy and a DEA agent reportedly fired at Zac in return. According to initial coroners reports, the bullet entered through his left arm and continued into his chest. Zac died on the parking lot pavement.
For weeks his mother and his friends have been puzzing in anguish over what could possibly have caused the terrible string of events.
Now there is a witness.
His name is Douglas Ryan Oeters and he tells a story that is different in several important ways from the one that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has previously reported.
It seems he is the friend whom Zac was meeting. I have been corresponding with Oeters via email about the night in question.
(I see that The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has also been corresponding via email with Oeters.)
According to Oeters, who is 29, he had just spoken to Zac on the cell phone before the events were set in motion that were to end in tragedy.
“He called me a minute before this happened and said he was sitting in the Citibank parking lot in a white car.” Oeters said he saw a white car parked in the back of the lot, walked over, and peered into it to see if anyone was inside. No one was. Then he spotted a second white car—which turned out to be the right one—and was proceeding toward it when he said he was approached by a plain clothes officer and then several more, none of whom, he said, in the beginning showed him any kind of a badge.
The official press release from the LA County Sheriff’s Department describes the crucial events as follows:
It states that Sheriff’s narcotics officers together with DEA agents had just served a search warrant and were now debriefing in the Chipotle parking lot.
During their discussion they saw a man looking into parked cars who appeared to be casing the area to commit a crime. Task force members contacted the man. He immediately became uncooperative and a struggle ensued. An additional deputy approached to assist, drew his handgun, and ordered the suspect to the ground.
A white sedan, driven by a second suspect, sped toward the group, hitting the deputy.The deputy was thrown into the air, landed on the hood, hit the windshield, and was
thrown back onto the ground. The deputy and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent,
fearing for their lives, fired their duty weapons at the suspect vehicle.
Although not spelled out in the original statement, now the LASD confirms that the officers involved were in indeed in plain clothes and their cars were unmarked.
As a consequence, according to Oeters, he first mistook the officers who approached him for “rednecks” who intended to jump him.
“I was scared and tried to avoid this very large man in plain clothes with no badge. They rushed towards me as I was walking in the parking lot looking for Zac waiting in his car. …I was looking for Zac and nothing else.”
Oeters said that he was fearful and continued to ask the officers, “What is this about?” However, he insisted that he never physically resisted the officers as the LASD report states he did. “I continued asking what was I doing wrong while this large man cornered me by a fence.” He became further alarmed when an agent pulled his gun, he said, “when there was no physical contact at all. Just me having my hands put behind my back after a badge was finally shown.”
From where Zac was sitting in his car, Oeters theorized later, the scene must have looked very threatening.
“Because of this Zac panicked and decided to flee the parking lot. He pulled his car forward as if to leave. Somehow an agent got in the way between him and the exit. Did he have any intent to harm this agent in the way? NO it did not appear as if he was there to hurt anyone. He was not driving very fast.
Reportedly, the deputy whom Zac hit and a DEA officer both fired at Zac.
How he managed to hit a sheriff’s deputy on his way out of the parking lot is still not clear.
Friends who know Zac Champommier well said that their friend would not have played the hero in a situation of this nature. It was more likely, they said, echoing Oeters, that he was simply trying to escape a frightening scene he did not understand and would have probably called 911 once he was safely away from what looked like an attack.
As to the question of why the 18-year-old Zac was meeting a 29-year-old man to go to the movies, sources close to Zac’s family said that, after her son’s death, his mother, Linda, read the emails that Zac and Oeters had exchanged the night before their plan to meet, and that Oeters had written that he was new in town, and hoped to sell a screen play, but was trying to get to know people in the area.
Whatever the case, Zac had no reputation as a wild kid. Thus far anyway, there are no tales of drugs or anything else illegal in his past. Videos taken by friends show an bright, open-faced, handsome young man who seemed at ease with himself yet could be zany and silly with his band pals. Not someone who walked any kind of edge, his friends said.
According to his mom, when he went to a party, he would usually be home by 10:30 or a 11 p.m.
In fact, his mother worried a little that he was not going out enough. She thought that maybe, because she was a single mom, he might have felt he ought to keep her company. So she began encouraging him to get out a bit more.
Still he rarely stayed out past his self-imposed 11 p.m. deadline.
That is why when her son didn’t arrive home by 1 a.m. and then 2 a.m., then 4 a.m.…then 6…. Carol Champommier knew something was horribly wrong.
By around 8 a.m., friends say, she reported Zac as a missing person. Shortly after that, Carol Champommier learned her son was dead, shot by an LA County sheriff’s deputy.
As for Oeters, the LASD records show that he was arrested and booked that same night.. A couple of days later he was released on a $20,000 bail and has since retained an attorney.
In addition, the LA Times reports that Oeters, who is from Ohio, had at least one other “brush with the law. In Ohio, he was convicted of a charge related to soliciting sex from a minor, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.”