Shock, Grief Follow Toll Booth Shootings

Commuters in shock after gunman opens fire at toll plaza

By Lori Preuitt and Jessica Greene
|  Thursday, Aug 13, 2009  |  Updated 11:35 PM PDT
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Stunned Neighbors Mourn Slain Toll Worker

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Stunned Neighbors Mourn Slain Toll Worker

Friends and neighbors of Richmond San Rafael Bridge toll worker Deborah Ross say she and Nathaniel Burris, suspected of killing her and another man at the toll plaza, lived together and seemed to be getting by just fine until recently.
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The evening commute at the Richmond San Rafael Bridge toll plaza turned into the scene of a deadly shooting Tuesday when a man shot and killed his girlfriend -- a toll collector -- then went to the employee parking lot and shot and killed a man sitting in a pickup, Richmond police said.

The woman has been identified as Debbie Ross, 51, of Richmond. Neighbors say she lived with the suspect and had recently ended their 13-year relationship.   Her sisters told NBC Bay Area that Ross received flowers from the suspect, Nathaniel Burris, on Monday and that she believed he had accepted that the two were going to separate.  Those flowers were still in the apartment on the day after the shootings.

Golden Gate Transit bus driver Ersie "Chuck" Everett, a  58-year-old San Leandro man, has been identified as the second victim.

Golden Gate Transit held a news conference late this morning to remember Everett, who was first hired by the agency in 1990.   They said that he had finished a shift that ended at 5:30, just 30 before he was shot and killed.  His co-workers said he was a great guy who loved God and people.  They said he will be very missed.

"His humor and honesty endeared him to us," bus driver Thomas  Thomas said.

 Thomas recalled a recent fishing trip with Everette at Lake  Alpine. He said the sky was bright blue and that Everette told him, "I feel  like I'm in heaven."

 "So I took a picture of him," Thomas said.

Ross' sisters said the Everett was a deacon at an Oakland church and had been counseling her about her troubles.  They said they did not think Burris and Everett had ever met and would be surprised if Burris even knew what Everett looked like.  Either way, police say he somehow found him in the toll plaza parking lot and shot and killed him.

Ross' sisters said they called the police tp have them check on Debbie last Friday because Burris wouldn't let her leave the house or talk to them on the phone.

"I told them he was holding her against her will which he had never did before and that he was a knife fanatic. I knew he had knives. I didn't know he had guns," said Tyrice Ross. 

Typice said despite the incident Debbie wasn't fearful.    "That was the kind of person she was very light hearted and just tried to believe the best in everybody. She never really thought she was in danger but I had other thoughts. I thought ut could be possible," said Antoinette Ross.

The sisters say Debbie was happy to be starting a new chapter of her life. "Debbie had this new glow about herself. She was coming out of her shell. She was happy, she was happy."

They can't believe she's gone. "We all love her and we're going to miss her but she's always going to be here in our heart," said Tyrice.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Trent Cross said Burris, 46, surrendered willingly to the CHP after officers spotted his van traveling eastbound on Interstate 80 at Yuba Gap near Baxter, Calif. at about 3 a.m.

Authorities say Burris exited the freeway for a short time then drove westbound on I-80 before pulling over to the shoulder.

Burris is now being held on two counts of homicide in the Placer County Jail and will be eventually be taken to the Contra Costa County where he will be formally charged.

The sisters said they are relieved Burris is behind bars. "I'm glad he didn't take the coward way out.  We're going to get justice for what he did not only to our sister but to her friend, her church member, a deacon of the church," said Tyrice.

Autopsies were being conducted on Ross and Everett's bodies this  morning, a Contra Costa County deputy coroner said.

The California Highway Patrol launched a manhunt for the suspected gunman after witnesses said they saw him walk up to a toll booth at about 6 p.m., break through the glass window using the butt end of a rifle and shoot the woman standing in that booth before driving into the employee parking lot and shooting the second victim.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said flags will fly at half-mast Wednesday in memory of Ross.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement, "Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our shock and sadness over the death of Deborah Ross. Deborah was a devoted and hard-working public servant and we are grateful for her dedicated service to our state. We send our prayers and condolences to Deborah's family and friends during this difficult time."

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