Police from the Foothill Division Station in Pacoima laid out in detail the crime and capture of five people accused of carjacking, robbing and stabbing of a pregnant woman in Sunland.
They also made the the point that the arrests could not have happened so quickly without the help from the community, and cooperation of detectives from the LAPD Hollenbeck Station in Los Angeles.
“These cases [can take] a lot longer to solve. This was in two days; that’s extraordinary,” said Capt. David Grimes, during a press conference in front of the Foothill on Wednesday, March 27.
“Again, with the help of the community, we could do this more often. We need people to provide video, witness statements and keep their eyes open….But yes, it’s kind of extraordinary we got five people in custody in two days. It’s such a great ending to such a horrible story.”
The five suspects — Christian Reyes, 20; Andrew Bran, 19; Jesus Morales, 18; Christina Luna, 24, Monica Gomez, 25 — were arrested on March 21 and 22. They were arraigned in Superior Court in San Fernando on Tuesday, March 26, and charged with willful, deliberate and premeditated of attempted murder, carjacking, robbery, hit-and-run, and gang enhancements.
Reyes was also charged with use of a knife during carjacking enhancement and great bodily injury enhancement.
“We believe this was an isolated incident,” Grimes said. “We have no similar crimes in the area and the victim seems to have been chosen at random.”
The victim — previously identified by media outlets as Tanya Nguyen, 33, a first-grade teacher, after Nguyen posted a YouTube video — was 11 weeks pregnant at the time of the attack. She was stabbed 11 times and assaulted. She underwent surgery at Holy Cross Hospital, where doctors noted she had also sustained a punctured lung and lost two teeth.
“Thankfully she is going to fully recover and the baby is also fine,” Grimes said.
“The investigation was successful for several reasons,” Grimes said. “First of all, multiple concerned neighborhood sources provided information almost immediately, including surveillance video, which was essential in positively identifying the suspects. The investigation is also an example of really strong, investigative police work by gang details and detectives from two different divisions in the city of LA.”
“We would not have been able to arrest these suspects or solve the crime so quickly without the immediate assistance of the victims, the community and the cooperation of the two divisions.”
The crime took place at approximately 6 p.m. on March 20, in the 10800 block of Agoura Avenue in Sunland, Grimes said.
He said the victim was had come home and was parking her car when her vehicle was surrounded by three men. According to Grimes, Reyes approached the woman and asked to borrow her cell phone. When she refused, Reyes punched her in the face and stabbed her multiple times with a knife while she was still in her car.
“Reyes forcefully pushed her out of her vehicle and continued assaulting her while suspect Bran stole property from her vehicle,” Grimes said. “Reyes and Bran then got in the victim’s vehicle, and Morales then became a passenger in white Volkswagen Jetta, which was stopped in the middle of the street just south of the victim’s vehicle. Reyes and Bran drove away with the victim’s vehicle and immediately collided with several parked vehicles on the north and south sides of the street, and the stolen vehicle was disabled.”
Reyes and Bran abandoned the stolen vehicle and ran from the scene, Grimes said. At that time, the fourth and fifth suspects — Luna and Gomez, who were driving the while Volkswagen Jetta, according to police — picked up Reyes and Bran, and all five suspects drove away.
While the victims was treated by LAFD and then transported by ambulance to the hospital, Foothill officers responded to the scene to investigate as a result of multiple 9-1-1 calls, Grime said.
“Early in this investigation, the officers found a concerned citizen, who provided a photograph of the suspect’s vehicle depicting the license plate. A records check of the plate revealed the vehicle had been impounded a week before by a gang enforcement detail in the Hollenbeck area.
“The Foothill officers immediately contacted Hollenbeck officers to see if they knew who had been in the vehicle on the day of the impound. The officers were familiar with a passenger when the vehicle was impounded, whom they knew to be a gang member who lived in their area.”
The Foothill officers also located a surveillance video of the crime, which depicted the suspects and their actions during the carjacking and attempted murder, Grime said. The officers made still photos of the video and provided them to the Hollenbeck officers.
One of the Hollenbeck officers — Abel Cepeida — spotted three male Latinos matching the description of the carjacking suspects in the area of the 1400 block of Tremont Avenue just after midnight on March 21. Cepeida and his partner took the men into custody without incident.
“To be honest, it happened so quickly,” Cepeida said at the press conference. “When we go the photos of the suspects (via email), we turned the corner and they were there.They were coming out of [a residence] we knew. We could identify them right away. There was no resistance.”
The three men were soon returned to the Foothill Station. During the interviews with police, Grimes said, it was determined one of the men arrested was not involved and released. But Reyes and Morales remained in custody.
A day later, March 22, Grimes said Hollenbeck officers spotted the white Volkswagen Jetta and, after a traffic stop, arrested the three remaining suspects. A search warrant was issued and served at Bran’s home, where Grimes said investigators recovered stolen property from the victim.
“The knife believed to be used in the crime was recovered from the victim’s vehicle and is being analyzed to confirm that fact,” Grimes said. “The suspect vehicle was also impounded and being analyzed for DNA, fingerprints and other trace evidence.”
Det. Armando Cero, a member of the Foothill Gang Detail Unit, said police don’t believe the carjacking attempt was the main crime.
“[The suspects] were there for a reason other than the carjacking that occurred. They were (in Sunland) to purchase narcotics. She came home at the wrong time … she came home and was parking. the car she has is a nice car and they noticed she was alone. The three suspects at the time that surrounded the vehicle saw she was vulnerable, too.”
Armando added “there were some issues we’re going on that I can’t discuss at this time. But there’s a reason why the three male suspects were out of the vehicle. There was some level of dispute going on, I can say that. And they saw the opportunity to take the vehicle away from this lady.
“It appeared to be a dispute amongst them. They weren’t agreeing on something, but I can’t go into detail.”