A 48-year-old Aliso Viejo man has pleaded guilty to running over a Border Patrol investigator outside the Chet Holifield Federal Building, a.k.a. “The Ziggurat” in Laguna Niguel.
Geoffrey Donald Rickner faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison after copping Tuesday to one count of assault on a federal employee by use of a dangerous and deadly weapon and inflicting bodily injury. U.S. District Judge James V. Selna scheduled sentencing for Oct. 7.
Rickner admitted driving his Mercedes-Benz sedan into Customs and Border Protection Security Specialist Jose Gutierrez on March 3, 2016, outside the Ziggurat Building, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Santa Ana. Without identifying Gutierrez by name, a previous U.S. Department of Justice statement reported that the victim was a CBP investigator in the Office of Professional Responsibility.
“Gutierrez, who was in a well-marked crosswalk and wearing his federal employee identification card, suffered permanent and life-threatening injuries–including head trauma, broken ribs, internal bleeding and badly damaged legs–that put him in the hospital for nearly three weeks and continue to cause him pain and physical impairment,” reads a statement Tuesday from the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
“When Rickner struck Mr. Gutierrez, the vehicle was travelling at such a high rate of speed that it continued traveling into the Ziggurat, going through a metal garage door, and stopping only when it struck a concrete wall inside the building.”
As the Weekly previously reported, Rickner was a broker who did or had worked with the Aliso Viejo firms GWN Securities and Medallion West, and online records indicated someone with his name had several liens against him.
FBI Special Agent Patrick P. Baldree, who investigated the incident, provided a statement to Selna’s court that federal officers at The Ziggurat got a call around noon the day of the incident about a man between the ages 40 and 50 driving a silver Mercedes Benz “in an unusual manner,” stopping, getting out of the Beemer and pacing. When the car stopped facing the south parking entrance in the wrong direction, officers questioned, cuffed and briefly detained the driver. He was patted down and his ID indicated he was Geoffrey Donald Rickner. Asked what he was doing there, the man said he owed the IRS money.
The officers searched the Benz trunk, found nothing unusual and let Rickner go, according to Baldree. A call was made to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to check on Rickner’s welfare at the address on his drivers license, but it turned out to be the location of a UPS store.
Federal officers got a call at 3:36 p.m. that same day indicating Rickner was back, pacing in front of the building’s south entrance, the FBI special agent swore. About that time the officers who had detained Rickner before rolled up to the Benz and recognized him behind the wheel. That’s when the driver “gunned it” toward the building, hitting a pedestrian holding a black briefcase and crossing the road. The Mercedes continued forward without stopping and “rammed” through a metal roll-down gate before coming to a stop inside the building. Officers yelled at the driver to get out of the car, but he did not respond and ultimately had to be pulled out.
Witnesses told investigators it appeared the driver deliberately tried to hit the pedestrian and that he had a “determined look on his face.”
Investigators interviewed Rickner’s parents, who said their son revealed he owed the IRS $200,000 plus penalties and had been put on a payment plan. Rickner also said the IRS had discovered a discrepancy on his life insurance policy and suspected he was hiding assets.
According to the feds, Rickner’s mother said her son had a “meltdown” before the incident.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.