Santa Barbara police officers arrested two suspected Eastside gang members after a carjacking and stabbing Sunday night. Though authorities have established a rough sequence of events, what role the suspects played in the two incidents – and whether the incidents are related – is still unclear.
In custody are Ernesto Lopez, 23, and Augustine Cruz, 21. Both are frequent fliers in Santa Barbara’s criminal justice system and are booked in County Jail on charges of misdemeanor resisting arrest in this case. Lopez is also charged with violating parole.
According to police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood, officers responded to a rollover traffic accident in the intersection of Punta Gorda Street and Canada Street at around 11 p.m. Witnesses, Harwood said, “reported hearing some yelling that sounded ‘gang related,”’ but the car’s occupants fled the area before police arrived. The black four-door Infinity had apparently struck a telephone pole support cable, causing it to roll on its side.
About 15 minutes later, the Infinity’s owner called police to report that she had been carjacked at gunpoint on the lower Eastside. The victim, who was unhurt, provided authorities with a description of the suspects, but a search of the area yielded no arrests, said Harwood.
At 12:05 a.m., police received reports of possible shots fired and a second traffic accident on 1100 East Mason Street. “Officers responded,” said Harwood, “and found that the involved vehicle, a black Ford SUV, was heavily damaged but with very little of the damage appearing to be related to the collision.”
A description of suspects seen leaving the seen was broadcast to nearby officers, one of whom chased down and captured Lopez. There was no evidence of a shooting at the accident scene, said Harwood. Witnesses also said that other possible suspects from the crash fled to a residence in the 1300 block of East Mason Street. Officers set up a perimeter around the house, and shortly thereafter Cruz tried to flee the area, Harwood said.
He was found hiding in the creek bed at the west end of Salinas Place and refused to follow officers’ orders to come out and show his hands. A K-9 unit was deployed to arrest him. After the dog, Hondo, bit Cruz, he was placed in handcuffs. Officers discovered Cruz had a stab wound to his abdomen, but he refused to tell officers how he was stabbed. He was transported to Cottage Hospital for treatment then taken to the police station.
The preliminary investigation, said Harwood, indicates that the second car crash was related to a fight that occurred near Mason and Soledad streets. Cruz appears to have been stabbed during that altercation. “The investigation into the carjacking,” said Harwood, “and other aspects of these cases, including whether these incidents are related, is still ongoing.”
Cruz, named in the city’s proposed gang injunction, recently bailed out of jail after a judge lowered his bond amount from $500,000 to $100,000 in a 2009 assault case. He and another suspected gang member are accused of brutally beating two men within minutes of each other, though Cruz wasn’t arrested for the alleged crimes until March 2011.
Lopez and another man were arrested in 2008 for assault with a deadly weapon after they reportedly attacked two men in the Milpas Street Jack in the Box. He was also arrested in 2007 for trying to start a gang-related fight during that year’s Santa Barbara High School graduation.