Drago, a veteran Sacramento County Sheriff's Department police dog, was reported in good shape after being shot through the chest Friday morning while chasing a fleeing suspected car thief through a field in Elverta.
The suspect, whose name has not been released, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he fired at the police dog, sheriff's officials reported. They described him as a Sacramento-area resident in his 40s.
Veterinarians are saying Drago, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, was fortunate. Sheriff's officials said the man fired eight shots in the dark at the dog and chasing officers, hitting Drago once.
"It was a through-and-through wound from chest to shoulder," said Sheriffs spokeswoman Sgt. Lisa Bowman. It partially collapsed a lung, but missed other vital organs. "He's a very lucky dog. He did not require surgery.
"It may be only a matter of weeks before he is back to work."
The incident began just after 4 a.m. Friday when a resident near the Garden Highway in Natomas awoke to hear his car out front being started. He called police. An officer spotted the car minutes later on Interstate 5 and began chasing. Police were assisted in the chase by the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.
The suspect stopped the vehicle and ran into a field near 16th Street and Kasser Road in the Elverta area. Led by Drago, officers gave chase, but did not fire back for safety reasons.
"It's pitch black," Bowman said. "They don't know what is behind him, around him."
Officers surrounded the field and called in a helicopter, which used a heat recognition sensor to locate the suspect's body. Officers called to him, then fired non-lethal shots near the body, Bowman said. When there was no response, they approached and discovered the man had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, she said.
"It was not immediately noticeable because of his dark clothing and the position of his body," said Bowman. "Once they were close enough to determine that medical issue, an ambulance that had been standing by transported him to a hospital."
Bowman said the suspect "had signs of life," but later died at a local hospital.
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