Local & Regional
RIDGECREST, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Two people found in the trunk of a suspect's car are still hospitalized in critical condition, and Ridgecrest police say they were forced at gunpoint into that trunk before the suspect allegedly shot two people at an apartment and then led officers on a chase.
Officers aren't yet releasing the names of these two victims in the incident last Friday morning that ended on Highway 395.
When it was all over, Sergio Munoz, 39, had been shot and killed by officers from several different agencies. Munoz is accused of killing a 22-year-old woman at an apartment in the 500 block of W. Atkins Avenue in Ridgecrest, where he allegedly also shot and injured Thaddeus Meier.
That shooting happened at about 5 a.m., and police say about an hour before that, the woman who ended up in the trunk had gone to that apartment to pick up Munoz.
Ridgecrest Sgt. Jed McLaughlin told Eyewitness News on Monday that Munoz had been at the West Atkins apartment on Thursday night, but the unnamed woman picked him up at about 4 a.m. Friday.
"She took him (Munoz) to his house on Beth Lane," McLaughlin said. He said "at gunpoint" that woman and another man somehow ended up in the trunk of Munoz' car.
McLaughlin says it appears the pair was in the trunk during the shootings on W. Atkins, and were still there for about an hour while it's assumed Munoz drove around Ridgecrest. His car was spotted by a Kern County Sheriff's deputy at about 7:00 a.m.
That deputy asked for backup, and officers tried to stop Munoz, but he took off going south on Highway 395. He eventually pulled over and stopped and the trunk opened up.
"We don't know whether the driver was able to pop it from the inside, which we know you can do, or whether the victims opened it from inside the trunk," Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Friday afternoon. "The victims were alive and the trunk was then closed, we believe by the two people in the trunk."
Officers said Munoz took off again, driving south on Highway 395 and put more people in danger. "Obviously by shooting at oncoming traffic, and running oncoming traffic off the road there were some real issues," Youngblood said.
About eight miles north of Highway 58, Munoz again pulled off and stopped. "He turned from the driver's seat and started shooting into the trunk of the car where the two victims were," Youngblood described. "The officers approached the vehicle rapidly and engaged (Munoz) in gunfire to try and save the two victims lives' in the trunk."
Officers say the people in the trunk managed to get out, and they were airlifted to a hospital. On Monday, sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said the victims were in critical condition, at last report.
Ridgecrest Police Sgt. Jed McLaughlin said an officer had managed to talk to them at the hospital over the weekend.
Ridgecrest Police have also said the two from the trunk knew Munoz, though it's not clear exactly how. That department is investigating the shooting and homicide at the apartment, and the Kern County Sheriff's Department is investigating the chase and officer involved shooting.
Eight officers were involved in the shooting, according to the Sheriff's Department. That includes three Sheriff deputies, four Ridgecrest Police officers, and one California Highway Patrol officer.
Sheriff Youngblood said when they discovered there were victims in the suspect's trunk, that changed the case entirely.
"This is the worst case scenario that I've seen in my career for the street-level officer to make decisions based on what's in front of him," Youngblood said. "It changed the dynamic of this pursuit in total."