ATASCADERO - Sometimes everything happens so fast in life it's hard to stop and sit down for a minute to process. In the midst of filing insurance claims and waiting to file a police report, Susan Shroll of Atascadero took her dog Coco to the office of the small-town newspaper to download mentally and see if there might be some photos available. And in part seemingly because she just wanted somebody out there to confirm that it is unusual to have your home burn down one weekend and come face-to-face with a gun-toting fugitive at the property a few days later.
At least in a community of 30,000, those two headlines wouldn’t be expected to collide often.
A custodian at Los Ranchos Elementary School, who had spent her off-hours over the last two decades improving the home that burned on July 27 at 4000 Carrizo Rd., Shroll is easy to sympathize with as a local “everyman” figure. And she’s the survivor in this case of exactly the type of home and property blaze which the City’s fire department has held safety and mitigation talks hoping to avoid, as residents find themselves more vulnerable this season.
According to the City’s fire department, it took 40 minutes, seven responding fire engines and four command vehicles with 23 firefighters to handle the fire which started at the back porch and engulfed the roof and center of the home by the time they’d arrived.
“Coco and I just ran out the front door,” Shroll said on Aug. 2, with the dog sitting close by, they hadn’t left each other's sight since.
The pair had been through a lot and she plans to file paperwork to register Coco as an emotional support animal. While everyone is happy that no humans were injured, including Shroll’s son Ryan, who lived in the home, they did lose another dog and a cat which were not able to escape.
Initial estimates from the fire department placed the damages in the neighborhood of $500,000, but most personal possessions were a total loss.
Surprisingly, Shroll said, after the site was cleared for inspection with her insurance company, she was able to find a pair of brand new shoes which had survived in the closet and some family photo albums scorched but salvageable.
While she was thanking the universe for small favors, however, the second headline in a week passed her way.
At about 9:15 a.m. Aug. 1 in the 5400 block of Carrizo Road Atascadero police pursued a motorcyclist after a resident called in to dispatch about a motorcyclist "riding recklessly."
According to reports another Atascadero resident, a young man, was booked into the San Luis Obispo County Jail on a felony count of evading a peace officer, reckless driving and driving without a motorcycle endorsement. But not before he took them on a chase reaching 80-to-100 mph and ending in a crash near Del Rio and El Camino.
Shroll said she met the motorcyclist while at the front of her property with her insurance claims adjuster, she motioned for him to slow down, but he instead stopped the bike, a “crotch rocket” to inform her that he’d just pulled a firearm in front of police and wouldn't be worried about doing the same with her.
“I was like, ‘Dude. My house just burned down you’d be doing me a favor,’” Shroll later recalled.
The rider had fled by the time police arrived and the other people on the property had called them.
Social media is where both stories end for the moment, however.
According to the Atascadero Police Department’s Facebook page, their suspect exclaimed, "You guys are good!" as soon as the handcuffs were applied.
Shroll meanwhile has seen an outpouring of community support, with the Red Cross and area support services lending more of the traditional aid for emergency housing, even the little things like a new toothbrush and fresh undergarments. A GoFundMe page was established by a coworker at the school which has now exceeded the $5,000 goal: www.gofundme.com/f/help-susan-shroll, with comments like, “I hope this helps a little. Susan made a huge difference during our time at Los Ranchos.”
Insurance, Shroll said, is expected to cover a new home and Shroll has taken the events as a sign, she said, “God was telling me to just stop working on that old house so I can have a new one.”