Local News

Saturday, Oct 26 2013 09:03 PM

Ridgecrest community regroups after shootings

  1. 1 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    Donna Dunn, who lives across the street from the small house where police said suspect Sergio Munoz shot two people Friday morning, in the 500 block of West Atkins Avenue in Ridgecrest, discusses the incident Saturday with neighbor Delven McFadden.

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  2. 2 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    Donna Dunn, who lives across the street from the small house where police said suspect Sergio Munoz shot two people Friday morning, in the 500 block of West Atkins Avenue in Ridgecrest, discusses the incident Saturday with neighbor Delven McFadden.

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  3. 3 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/ The Califorian

    According to a neighbor, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisal, suspect Sergio Munoz lived at this house in the 600 block of Beth Lane in Ridgecrest, and was seen there as recently as Friday. Ridgecrest resident Joey Blanton worked at one of three Searles Valley Minerals plants in Trona, with Munoz, until being tranferred to another Trona plant. Blanton carpooled with Munoz when the two men worked at the same plant, and said he did sometimes pick Munoz up at a house on Beth Lane.

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  4. 4 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    Suspect Sergio Munoz's mother, Yolanda Munoz, spoke to The Californian on the porch of this mobile home in the 200 block of West Moyer Street in Ridgecrest, but became overcome with emotion and cut her interview short. Yolanda Munoz described her late son as having "had a lot of problems."

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  5. 5 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    A bloody door and a broken window are evidence of a crime Ridgecrest police say occurred at this house in the 500 block of West Atkins Avenue in Ridgecrest Friday, when, according to police, suspect Sergio Munoz shot two people.

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  6. 6 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    A bloody door is evidence of a crime Ridgecrest police say occurred at this house in the 500 block of West Atkins Avenue in Ridgecrest Friday, when, according to police, suspect Sergio Munoz shot two people.

    click to expand click to collapse
  7. 7 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    A bloody door and a broken window are evidence of a crime Ridgecrest police say occurred at this house in the 500 block of West Atkins Avenue in Ridgecrest Oct. 25, when, according to police, suspect Sergio Munoz shot two people.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

RIDGECREST -- Two people taken hostage during a 40-mile high-speed pursuit on Highway 395 remained in critical condition Saturday, as authorities reopened the roadway and searched for a motive in a series of crimes that left the kidnapper and a Ridgecrest woman dead.

A spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the pursuit and taking of hostages, declined to identify the man and woman held for more than an hour Friday while law enforcement pursued suspect Sergio Alberto Munoz of Ridgecrest south on 395.

Both the man and woman continued to be treated at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster for what Kern County Sheriff's Public Information Officer Ray Pruitt described only as "major injuries."

The hospital's director of marketing declined to provide an update on their conditions because the Sheriff's Office has not released their names.

A third victim, identified as Thaddeus Meier of Ridgecrest by Pruitt, was shot at least three times by Munoz, according to Ridgecrest police, and remained hospitalized in unknown condition at a Los Angeles-area hospital.

A fourth victim, identified as Brittany Matheny by Pruitt, and as Meier's girlfriend by neighbor Donna Dunn, was fatally shot by Munoz when he shot Meier, Ridgecrest police said, shortly before 5:30 a.m. Friday.

A day after the violence, people here remembered the suspect, mourned the dead and reflected with regret on the attention drawn to their small community.

Munoz's mother, Yolanda Munoz, fought back tears when contacted by The Californian at her mobile home on Saturday, not far from the house where law enforcement officials say her 39--year-old son shot two people.

"When his uncle died, he had a lot of problems," Yolanda Munoz said, before going back inside her residence, explaining how her son's life changed with the death of his Uncle Sergio, for whom he was named.

Neighbors of the small back house in the 500 block of West Atkins Street in Ridgecrest, a street where mobile homes and single-family houses are interspersed, were sad about Munoz's death, remembering him as generally quiet and respectful -- but seeing him struggle recently.

"I think absolutely that it's heavy drugs," said neighbor Donna Dunn, who lives across the street from Matheny and Thaddeus Meier. Of Meier, she added, "He's not coming back on this street. I plan to tell him."

Delven McFadden recalled talking with Munoz when he'd see him on the street, and said, "It's really a real great town. We don't want to be on the news from this."

Electrical and cable installer Harley Barton -- who knows Dunn and McFadden -- said: "It's a small community out here. Everybody knows everybody. I met him back in high school. Every once in a while something like this rocks a small town. Hopefully, the town will come together, but things like this tend to divide communities."

Also Saturday, a complex portrait emerged of the convicted felon and father. Acquaintances and a former co-worker remembered Munoz as a man with three young children, going about the business of life and holding down a job at Searles Valley Minerals -- with the naval station at China Lake, one of what several residents described as the two best places to work in Ridgecrest.

"Last time we talked, we were at the AltaOne Federal Credit Union. We were talking about him selling his truck and getting a new truck. He was excited," said former co-worker Joey Blanton, who carpooled to work with Munoz at one of Searles' three plants in Trona, until Blanton was transferred to a different plant.

Blanton recalled picking Munoz up for work at a house in a quiet neighborhood in the 600 block of Beth Lane that may have been his last known address. According to Ridgecrest police, however, Munoz wasn't working at Searles any more.

Munoz was arrested Sunday on suspicion of felony possession of ammunition, and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia -- the latter being a hypodermic syringe, Ridgecrest police Sgt. Jed McLaughlin said.

His felony arraignment on the ammunition charge was scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 31 in Kern County Superior Court.

Munoz had more on his record. A man with Munoz's name and date of birth has faced charges in 19 other cases since 1999, according to Kern County Superior Court records.

Charges on the man's record included misdemeanor threat with intent to terrorize, evading a police officer, and receiving stolen property.

The Kern County Sheriff's Office on Saturday provided some more details about what transpired Friday.

They said eight members of three agencies -- Kern County Sheriff's Office, California Highway Patrol and Ridgecrest Police Department -- fired upon Munoz when he stopped his car about eight miles north of Kramer Junction.

Three were from the Kern County Sheriff's Office. They were identified as Lt. Mike Scott, an 11½-year veteran, Deputy Brad Bays, a 6½-year veteran, and Deputy James Webb, a 2½-year veteran.

All three have been put on administrative leave pending a review of the incident.

Four of the other five officers who fired upon Munoz were from the Ridgecrest Police Department, while the fifth officer was from the California Highway Patrol.

Neither Ridgecrest police nor the California Highway Patrol released additional information Saturday about these officers.

Munoz was pronounced dead at the scene, on Highway 395, eight miles north of Kramer Junction, on Friday, after he fired through the back seat of his car, into the trunk containing the hostages and at authorities.

After isolating an expansive crime scene that stretched from Ridgecrest south along Highway 395 to about eight miles north of Kramer Junction, where 395 meets Highway 58 --and closing Highway 395 to traffic for nearly 18 hours between Highway 14 and Highway 58 -- the California Highway Patrol and the Kern County Sheriff's Office were able to reopen the area.

The Kramer Junction area reopened first, around 11 p.m. Friday, and the intersection of Highways 14 and 395 followed at 11:50 p.m., California Highway Patrol dispatchers said.

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