Brazen Murder in Carson

L.A. Sheriff’s Homicide, April 2000. Joe Martinez and I were paired up in the rotation when a remarkably brazen murder occurred in the City of Carson.

City of Carson

It happened during broad daylight at arguably the busiest intersection in the city. Dozens of people arrived on a city bus just as the shooting occurred, and many of them witnessed the murder.

The suspect gunned down one of the two victims, and then chased the other down the block, firing at him all the way until he reached a gas station at the corner and collapsed.

Then he fled in a black SUV driven by a woman. Amazingly, several witnesses had noted its license plate number.

San Diego

The vehicle was registered to a woman who lived in an apartment in San Diego. We needed to interview the dozens of witnesses as soon as possible, but we also had an expansive crime scene to process, and a suspect to find. I requested the assistance of additional teams to assist us at the scene.

My former partner, Rod Kusch, and his new partner, Randy Seymour, processed the scene, while two other teams helped me and Joe wade through witness interviews at Carson station. Meanwhile, I called Special Investigations and asked them to assist by conducting surveillance of the San Diego apartment where the suspect vehicle was registered.

Wednesday Bureau Meetings

It was a Wednesday, which meant we had started early at the office that day for the weekly bureau meeting wherein cases are briefed, and then the captain would bore us with administrative announcements.

The callout had come in the late afternoon, just when I was weighing whether I should head home for dinner and some rest before being called out, or hang around to see if someone died.

That was always the gamble, and this time, my not leaving early had paid off.

However, by the time we finished with interviews and the crime scene, it was midnight, and during that time the suspect vehicle had arrived at the San Diego apartment, occupied only by a female. Since our suspect wasn’t with her, we had a surveillance team stay on the location until we could get there, and we finished our interviews before heading south.

Lying and Denying

In the early morning hours, we arrived at the apartment in San Diego and contacted the female who had driven the getaway vehicle.

We interviewed her for more than an hour, listening to one lie after the other as she denied knowing anything about the shooting or the killer we sought. So, we arrested her. We impounded her Escalade, wrote a search warrant for her apartment, found a local judge to sign it, and spent the next couple of hours searching for evidence.

It was clear that a man was living there with her, but his identity was a mystery. The only thing apparent to us was that the man had haled from New York, and she confirmed it.

A New Day Dawned

The sun rose while we were still inside the apartment, and it was midmorning before we were able to head north.

Joe said, “I’m hungry. How about we have breakfast before heading back.”

I didn’t like it and I told him so; breakfast would put me to sleep. We had been working more than 24 hours straight at this point, and to say we both were tired is an understatement. But Joe insisted, so we ate before getting back on the road.

My rule was always that the bookman (passenger) stay awake in order to keep the driver from dozing off. But Joe put his head back and closed his eyes in spite of my protest.

The next thing I knew, horns were blasting, and Joe and I both shot straight up in our seats. Our car was traveling diagonally across the northbound lanes of traffic of the always-congested San Diego Freeway.

Resting Up During the Drive Home

I had been sound asleep—not just dozing. And for who knows how long.

I jerked the wheel. The tires of my Crown Vic grabbed the pavement violently as we straightened into a lane. Once I had things under control, I glanced over to see Joe braced in his seat, his eyes bulging like he had seen Mother Mary in a tunnel of light.

After I had regained control of the car and we were back on track, I said, “Now stay awake, Joe.” I may have used some expletives to accentuate the point.

He began to argue that if he could get some rest, and then we switched places, blah, blah…

I stopped him. “If you go back to sleep, I’m going back to sleep. Got it?”

And Joe kept his eyes open for the remainder of the drive back to L.A.

We both had long drives from the office to our homes. I don’t recall what Joe did after we made it back, but I slept in my car in the parking lot of our office for an hour or two and then worked until later that evening before going home. It wasn’t the first nor the last time I would sleep in my car, on the floor by my desk, in the lady’s restroom where a couch was provided—only after business hours would I dare do so—or in the bunk room of a nearby station.

Welcome to Homicide

Working around the clock was not uncommon when you picked up a fresh case.

As they say, the first 48 hours are critical. A lot of things happen during that relatively short time, but the detectives getting any shut-eye was seldom one of them.

Unless, of course, they managed a quick nap on the road.

This murder case sent me around the country gathering evidence and tracking the suspect, including trips to Texas, New York, and North Carolina where he was finally captured by a fugitive task force who was assisting with the case.

A fugitive from New York, the suspect was extradited there first to stand trial for murder before L.A. County ever got a crack at him.

* * *

Don’t forget to check out my podcast:

Unsolved Murders with Danny Smith

on the

Dr. Carlos Crime Network


8 thoughts on “Brazen Murder in Carson

  1. Its a career where sooo much is sacrificed, including family life in the Pursuit of Justice. Retirement seems like hitting the lottery when so much time was spent on hitting the leads and finding evidence for a successful prosecution. Many of us have almost fallen asleep while driving on the I-5 North to Los Angeles.

  2. Good story Dan. I had a similar experience with my scout (Phil) while returning from an all-night call-out in Lancaster. He was asleep before I put the car in drive to head back down the 14 to LA. I waited until I we were driving through a desolate patch of highway, then woke him up and asked him which way I supposed to turn at Bakersfield. He didn’t go back to sleep.

  3. I love this story. It is so familiar. I don’t even need to know how it ends. I know how it ends because I know you. I miss this life and I miss you, Danny.

    Great job.

  4. Oh, man!

    I’ve always wondered how those on the job could do those non sleeping, non eating multi shift (and multi day) stints in the name of public safety!

    And remembering how it feels to me, when adrenaline bleeds off, it’s a wonder any LEO makes it through their first year without dying in a traffic accident on the way home — seems more likely than getting shot!

    It must be your caring & humor that kept your wife hanging in there with you — it sure as hell wasn’t a stress free life! Bet she was happy when you retired!

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