A Monroe restaurateur fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies on Christmas Eve near Winnsboro in Franklin Parish after blasting through town at reckless speeds, flying through stoplights and past roadblocks, had been visiting his family in Baton Rouge for the holidays.

Friends, family and the Louisiana State Police are trying to piece together why Schuylar Gunning was erratically speeding south on U.S. 425 about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, triggering a chase that ended when Franklin Parish sheriff’s deputies — who’d already shot out Gunning’s tires — opened fire on his vehicle, killing him.

Franklin Parish Sheriff Kevin Cobb first spotted Gunning speeding straight at him in the wrong lane just north of Winnsboro.

As Gunning sped toward Cobb, Gunning veered off to the sheriff’s left, passing him on the wrong shoulder as he rushed toward Winnsboro, said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman.

Cain said Gunning barreled through Winnsboro in the wrong lane, tearing through five or six red lights and past a crowded funeral home, where much of the town was gathering to pay their respects to a toddler who’d died earlier in the week.

“It was truly a dangerous situation,” Cain said. “It’s a miracle other people weren’t hurt with this guy’s actions.”

Deputies scrambled to set up roadblocks, Cain said, but Gunning zoomed around them. At one point, his SUV became stuck in the highway median and deputies tried yanking open the doors, but Cain said Gunning “took off with them hanging onto the door handles.”

After the tires on the SUV he was driving were shot out, Gunning kept going on the rims, Cain said.

Eventually, a handful of deputies boxed Gunning in about 3 miles south of where the pursuit began, Cain said, but Gunning still wouldn’t surrender.

“He’s able to turn his car around heading back toward the deputies and turning to re-enter the highway against traffic, and that’s where it came to an end,” Cain said.

Cain declined Tuesday to say how many officers fired their weapons or how many times Gunning was struck. State Police investigators are continuing to look into the shooting, Cain said, and ballistics and other tests had not yet been completed Tuesday.

Among the many lingering questions surrounding the shooting is why Gunning was driving through the small north Louisiana town to begin with.

Gunning arrived in Baton Rouge early last week to spend the holiday with his parents, said Rosemary Gunning, his mother. The day before the shooting, Rosemary Gunning said, she’d gone shopping and cooked a ham with her son, who’d made no mention of leaving town. Thursday morning, they planned to make fudge and bake cookies, she said.

Instead, his mother woke to find both her son and her Jeep Commander gone. The door was locked behind him, Rosemary Gunning said, and the morning’s newspaper neatly set in the living room.

Increasingly worried calls to his cellphone went unanswered, she said. Then state troopers arrived at her door with an account of her son’s last minutes that Rosemary Gunning says has left her baffled.

“When you’re in our position, you start scrambling for answers, and we don’t have any,” she said. “I wish I could give you some answers, but I’m as befuddled as you are.”

Rosemary Gunning said her son owned restaurants, including Crawfish Junkie, and a fish-fry business in Monroe and sold a Cajun seasoning he’d created called Spice Junkie.

He’d struggled with drug addiction several years ago, she said, but had kicked the habit and poured much of his time into mentoring and sponsoring recovering addicts at a halfway house called The Zone in Monroe, where friends and family planned to gather for a memorial Wednesday.

“That was such a big part of what he did,” Rosemary Gunning said. “He worked at his other jobs to be able to work with these kids and mentor them.”

State Police have sent toxicology samples to the State Crime Lab for analysis, but the results are not yet available, Cain said, and suspected marijuana was found in the car.

Detectives are hoping to speak with as many people as possible who might have seen Gunning speeding through town or witnessed the shootings, Cain said, and also will be interviewing Gunning’s friends and family in hopes of finding clues for what triggered the incident.

“I’m hoping that it’ll give us some closure, some sort of explanation,” Rosemary Gunning said. “Any kind of explanation would help.”