Fugitive Sex Offender Arrested in Barstow Rail Yard

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A paroled sex offender who led authorities on a nearly four-hour pursuit in a motorhome from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, where he slipped away from police, remained behind bars today, according to L.A. County Jail records.

Stephen Merle Houk, a 46-year-old registered sex offender from Oregon, was wanted by sheriff's deputies in Santa Clarita for allegedly threatening his wife with a gun and abducting his two young children, who were in the motorhome during the Tuesday afternoon chase.

Houk was located in a rail yard at 200 North Avenue H, said Deputy Trina Schrader of the Sheriff's Information Bureau.

``He was hiding inside a compartment of an empty rail car, where detectives from the Fugitive Task Force took him into custody without incident,'' Schrader said.

Houk was arrested at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and was transferred to the sheriff's Lancaster Station for booking, according to Deputy Armando Viera of the Sheriff's Information Bureau.

Sheriff's Lt. Eddie Hernandez said Wednesday that Houk had repeatedly threatened his wife and forced her to panhandle outside a Starbucks store at Bouquet Canyon and Newhall Ranch roads in the Santa Clarita area. They were involved in a fight Tuesday in the motorhome, he said.

``That argument escalated to the point where he stops at the Best Buy, points a gun at her, tells her to get out of the motorhome and threatens to harm their 3-year-old,'' Hernandez said.

Police spotted the motorhome in the Los Angeles area, prompting the chase.

``At that time we knew the suspect was armed,'' Hernandez said. ``We knew he had his 3-year-old in the vehicle, and his 11-month-old daughter.''

The chase ended about 6 p.m. Tuesday in an orchard at Merced Avenue and Zerker Road in Bakersfield, where he managed to elude California Highway Patrol, Kern County Sheriff's Department and Bakersfield Police Department personnel, who all conducted an ``extensive'' search of the orchard before giving up about 11 p.m. Tuesday

``The children kidnapped by suspect Stephen Houk were located unharmed inside the pursuit vehicle shortly after the pursuit came to an end,'' according to the sheriff's department. ``Both children have since been reunited with their mother.''

A dog that was seen in video footage during the pursuit was also located safe inside the recreational vehicle.

The Sheriff's Major Crimes Bureau began the pursuit about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles, with the California Highway Patrol taking over the chase when the motorhome entered the northbound Golden State (5) Freeway, through the Newhall Pass and into Santa Clarita and north of Castaic.

The suspect then headed on state Route 99 into Kern County and traveled on surface streets in Bakersfield.

In Bakersfield, Houk repeatedly exited and re-entered the freeway and at times drove through the city and a busy Walmart parking lot, all with his two young children in the vehicle, authorities said.

Eventually Houk turned on a dirt road to the orchard, where the motor home and police vehicles kicked up blinding dust, said CHP Officer Robert Rodriguez.

When the motorhome stopped with its front end under a thick canopy of trees, officers pulled back for safety, Rodriguez said. Police eventually surrounded the motorhome with armored vehicles and patrol cars, guns drawn, waiting for Houk to emerge. Instead, his 3-year-old son walked out about 45 minutes later.

Police then found the baby inside but Houk was nowhere in sight.

He is being held in lieu of $1 million in bail, according to jail records. No information on his forthcoming court appearances was immediately available.

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