By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

A body recovered on a Crescent City beach yesterday morning is believed to be that of a car-theft suspect who tried to elude authorities by jumping into the ocean Monday night.

The suspect, Jeffrey Mooney, 34, of Lemon Grove, Calif., was last seen in the water Monday near Battery Point Lighthouse by several law enforcement officers.

The body was found in the same general area, said Crescent City Police Chief Bob West. Were not sure if it is the same person as the suspect in the auto theft. The coroner will have to make that determination. West said the body was found by local residents at around 7 a.m.

According to Capt. Doug Plack of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department, the car-theft suspect was initially contacted and identified by a ranger with the National Park Service at around 5:20 p.m. Monday because of a camping violation.

The ranger checked on the vehicle but the suspect left heading southbound on Highway 101 before it was determined the 1994 GMC Suburban had been reported stolen a day earlier.

Sheriffs deputies spotted the vehicle hidden in some trees on a narrow stretch of road near Hamilton Road and Highway 101, Plack said.

The deputies identified themselves and approached the vehicle with their service weapons drawn because this was a felony stop, Plack said. The suspect accelerated toward them and fishtailed in an attempt to injure or kill our deputies.

Plack said the deputies, Grant Henderson and Mike Turner, used great restraint in not firing on the vehicle.

The deputies got back in their vehicle to pursue him but, once the suspect hit (Highway) 101, he was gone because of his high rate of speed, Plack said. And because of his speed, at no time did our deputies offer pursuit. It was too hazardous ... but you cant outrun a radio.

Plack said police picked up the vehicle seconds later traveling northbound into Crescent City.

Officer Ed Fleshman said Mooney was traveling about 100 mph when he entered the city. West said this hampered the pursuit.

He was driving very erratically with no regard to anyones safety, West said. We had to shut it (the pursuit) down pretty quickly because of that.

West said Mooney made a left turn onto Front Street and headed toward the Del Norte Community Health Center on A Street. Plack said witnesses described the vehicle as flying through the clinics parking lot, indicating the driver possibly thought he was on a street. Mooney shot out onto the adjacent beach and came to a stop on a pile of driftwood.

A patient told us there was an accident outside so we ran out there, said medical receptionist Gill Carranza. When (the nurse) was on her way down to the vehicle to help, the police drove up and told us to go back in the building and to lock it up for a couple hours.

Mooney soon abandoned the vehicle, jumped into the stormy waters and began to swim away from shore.

We had one deputy in the water, along with a police officer, trying to apprehend the suspect, said Plack. There were eight- to nine-foot swells, driving rains and high winds. They put their lives on the line by going out after him.

Plack said the suspect brandished a knife while he was in the water, and yelled obscenities and made obscene gestures at the officers.

He was doing a backstroke and just kept going further out into the water, said Plack. He never called out for assistance. Officers called for him to come in. We tried to keep an eye on him as long as we possibly could, but he eventually disappeared.

Plack said several agencies maintained a perimeter in the area for some time, which included the sheriffs office, the city police department, and the National Park Service. The U.S. Coast Guard, the Crescent City Fire Department and Del Norte Ambulance also responded.

Rescue personnel lost sight of Mooney sometime before 7:30 p.m.