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Marin residents panicked by hunt for senior man’s killer: Cops now blame a horse

Marin County Sheriff's detectives work during an investigation. | Marin Independent Journal, Robert Tong/AP Photo

Residents in Marin County’s San Geronimo Valley took to social media in a flurry of panic on Friday night after the Sheriff’s Office vaguely announced an “incident” and launched what appeared to be a manhunt in the forested area near their homes.

As aircraft circled over homes and woods on Friday night, residents complained on social media that they were forced to turn to social network Nextdoor to try and find what was happening due to a lack of information from the Sheriff’s Office. Mostly, all they found was speculation. 

“We were forced to rely on what was, essentially, gossip,” wrote one angry resident on Nextdoor. “In a location where residents are terrified of fire.”

Other residents said on Nextdoor that deputies were searching for a gunman and posted screenshots of flight paths of aircraft circling their homes from flight-tracking websites.

Deputies tweeted out an alert to avoid the incident area but provided no further details until the next day.

Marin County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday that an 82-year-old man had been found suffering from a head wound after a fall near Wild Iris Road and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard before 7 p.m. Friday. 

Initially, medical staff at Marin Health Medical Center told deputies the man sustained what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the head, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Deputies had closed the road at Francis Drake Boulevard between Wild Iris and Lagunitas School roads for nearly two hours on Friday while first responders arrived.

After finding the man and realizing his head wound was significant, they took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

On Tuesday, deputies identified the man as Richard Helzberg of San Geronimo Valley and said the cause of his death was likely caused by a horse seen on the road where Helzberg was hiking. Helzberg's law firm could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

“This blunt-force trauma was potentially caused by a kick from a horse, which was on scene along the fire road where Helzberg had been hiking,” a Sheriff’s Office statement referencing the autopsy report said. “No other significant injuries were noted during the completed examination.”

Marin Health Medical Center was contacted for comment but did not respond by publication time.

It is unclear whether the horse was detained.

George Kelly can be reached at