SPRING VALLEY, CALIFORNIA — As a Spring Valley woman recovered from a gunshot wound Tuesday in a hospital, her family is demanding answers from the sheriff’s deputy who accidentally fired the bullet.
Sheriff’s officials said Jennifer Orey, 36, was shot during a surprise encounter with a deputy in her back yard Sunday night. The bullet first grazed her chest, then went through her arm and ricocheted off her pinky finger.
The incident occurred sometime after 10:25 p.m. as deputies were searching Orey’s neighborhood for a prowler. Someone in a ski mask reportedly had been seen in a driveway on Leigh Avenue.
Orey was at her home a few blocks away when she heard a noise outside, said her brother, James Morgan, who spoke with her in the hospital.
Thinking it might be her ex-husband returning home from work, a pajama-clad Orey went outside.
She told her brother she bumped into someone carrying a flashlight, and at some point identified herself as the homeowner.
The deputy’s gun, aimed at her chest “point blank,” went off as Orey turned to the side.
“She saw black smoke come out of the barrel,” Morgan said.
Orey told her family that she was able to pepper the deputy with questions right after the shooting, asking him why he shot her and why he was in her backyard, before her system went into shock.
The deputy reportedly told her, “I’m sorry, you startled me,” Morgan said.
The deputy was identified Tuesday as Luke Berhalter, who is assigned to the Lemon Grove patrol station. He has been with the department for 21 months, and before that was a deputy with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department for seven years.
Sheriff’s Lt. Larry Nesbit said a second deputy was also in the backyard at the time of the shooting.
Orey’s family described her as a military veteran who was the first woman in the Navy to earn her wings of gold as a search and rescue swimmer. She has worked as a personal trainer and is a competitive judo fighter.
Morgan said the shooting has left them angry. “We are in shock,” he said.
Sheriff’s officials have not released any further details about the incident, saying the complete investigation will be turned over to the District Attorney’s Office. The deputy has been placed on administrative leave, which is routine in deputy-involved shootings.