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A deputy rushed to confront the Cook’s Corner gunman. A patron’s warning may have saved his life

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Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Jesse Carrasco had just a few details from dispatch when he pulled up to Cook’s Corner the evening of Aug. 23.

Minutes earlier, John Snowling had walked into the beloved bar in Trabuco Canyon and opened fire, killing three and wounding six others, including his estranged wife.

Carrasco was among the first deputies to arrive, and he quickly formulated a plan. He would park out front and run inside to find the shooter, he recalled in an interview this week.

It would have been a mistake. Perhaps a fatal one.

Unbeknownst to responding law enforcement, Snowling had already made his way into the parking lot — clutching two pistols and firing as patrons fled around him. Had Carrasco, 32, followed his initial instincts, he likely would have run right into the gunman, he said.

But a chance meeting with Nelson Rosales prompted him to change course. The way Carrasco tells it, Rosales probably saved his life.

In the two months since, Carrasco has spent time reflecting on the horror that unfolded that night. His thoughts kept returning to Rosales.

Rosales, 29, had gone to the bar that night to meet up with friends for a motorcycle ride through the canyon.

But as he approached the bar on his blue Yamaha motorcycle, he saw a panicked woman waving for him to stop.

Then he heard the gunshots. He watched as people fell to the ground outside the rough-hewn bar. Rosales, a jailer for the city of South Gate, quickly took cover behind a telephone pole and watched the gunman.

A man writes a message in chalk at a memorial.

A man writes a message in chalk at a memorial to victims of the mass shooting at Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Patrol cars screamed down Santiago Canyon Road. Rosales broke cover and ran toward them, waving his arms.

“Where’s he at?” Carrasco asks Rosales in a frenetic exchange caught on the deputy’s body-worn camera.

“It’s a male, blue shirt … he’s in that gray pickup with the door open,” Rosales responds.

“Gray pickup with the door open,” Carrasco repeats before speeding ahead.

Within seconds of Carrasco exiting his patrol car, he and other deputies came under fire and had to take cover.

What followed was a firefight lasting more than five minutes.

During the exchange of gunfire, it was challenging for deputies to keep eyes on Snowling, a retired Ventura Police Department sergeant, Carrasco said.

“His tactics were very similar to ours,” Carrasco said. “He wasn’t just standing in the open, he was moving from car to car. We could only see the top half of his body every now and then and it was just for a split second.”

Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Jesse Carrasco and Nelson Rosales.

Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Jesse Carrasco, who responded to the Cook’s Corner shooting in August, chats with Nelson Rosales about motorcycles. Carrasco met with Rosales to thank him for helping deputies identify the gunman.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday, Carrasco and Rosales met officially for the first time inside a conference room at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department office in Lake Forest. It was a moment Carrasco had been waiting for — a chance to thank Rosales for his actions that night.

At first, he struggled to find the words.

“We’re just grateful for you. If it wasn’t for you, things could have been completely different. And I wouldn’t be able to sit here and say that all the deputies made it out,” he said.

Rosales remained stoic but nodded as he listened.

Others fled, the deputy continued, but “you left cover to come tell me where he was. And I don’t know what drove you to do that, but I really appreciate you doing it.”

Sheriff’s Commander Kirsten Monteleone called Rosales a “guardian angel” for the deputies. Officials gave him a department challenge coin, a token of appreciation.

“I truly feel the information you gave saved some lives because had they gone in the bar they would have ran through the back,” Monteleone told Rosales. “They would have met a suspect with an advantage.”

Taylor Cox, Carrasco’s girlfriend of two years, smiled as she handed Rosales a gold envelope.

He carefully tore open the paper, his hands shaking slightly as he read the note on the card within. It was one of gratitude: for guiding deputies in the right direction. For ensuring Carrasco made it back home.

Rosales took a breath, emotion etched on his face.

He looked up, his voice only slightly more than a whisper.

“I’m just glad I was able to help.”

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