GARDEN GROVE (CNS) - A 33-year-old Garden Grove man suspected in a violent two-city crime spree that left four people dead and two others injured is a documented gang member with a violent past who should have still been in prison, police said today.
Zachary Castaneda was jailed in lieu of $1 million bail in connection with the Wednesday night rolling melee that lasted more than two hours and stretched Garden Grove police resources to the limit as they responded to call after call of robberies, assaults and homicides.
Castaneda was arrested around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday outside a 7-Eleven store, where he allegedly fatally stabbed a security guard -- who did not work at the convenience store -- and stole his gun.
Police were continuing to piece together details of the crime spree and trying to determine what prompted it. Garden Grove police Lt. Carl Whitney said Castaneda has not cooperated with investigators.
``He remained violent with us through the night,'' Whitney said. ``He never told us why he did this.''
Whitney stressed, however, ``There was no indication this was a hate crime.''
Garden Grove police Chief Tom DaRe called Castaneda a ``violent individual'' with a long criminal history that should have kept him in prison. He blamed Castaneda's release on Assembly Bill 109, legislation approved in 2011 aimed at reducing the state's prison population by shifting certain offenders into county jails or putting them under supervision of county probation officers. Law enforcement agencies have long assailed the legislation, saying it results in offenders who should be imprisoned being squeezed into overcrowded county jails, often ending with them being released from custody.
``Based upon his prior arrest record, he is a violent individual who should have never been considered for early release based on Assembly Bill 109,'' DaRe said. ``As a police chief, I implore our policy makers to reconsider their policies on criminal justice. The pendulum has swung so far that it is increasingly difficult to keep our communities safe from the rise in violent crime. California law enforcement agencies have been crippled by Assembly Bill 109 and offenders are not being held accountable for their crimes.''
Details were not immediately available on when Castaneda was released from custody.
According to court records, Castaneda has a criminal record dating back to 2004.
As recently as July 22, he pleaded not guilty to a felony count of carrying a knife as well as misdemeanor counts of possession of a drug and driving on a suspended license. On July 9, he pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts of criminal gang vandalism and misdemeanor counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.
According to a December probation violation report, Castaneda has been repeatedly subjected to ``flash incarcerations,'' or short stays in jail for violating terms of his probation. He was repeatedly arrested on drug charges, told probation officials he was smoking methamphetamine daily, failed to report to drug rehabilitation numerous times and failed multiple drug tests, according to the report.
He was found in violation of parole eight times from April 2016 through October of last year, according to court records.
He pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife in October 2009 and was sentenced to two years in prison. He pleaded guilty to domestic violence and child abuse and endangerment in June 2006, also leading to a two-year prison term, court records showed.
Whitney said Wednesday's crime spree began around 4:10 p.m., when police received a report of a burglary at an apartment complex in the 12100 block of Jentges Avenue in Garden Grove. Police had not yet responded to that call when they received a report at 4:23 p.m. of an armed robbery at a nearby bakery in the 13000 block of Chapman Avenue, Whitney said. No one was injured in that robbery, which was carried out by a man with a knife and possibly a handgun.
The suspect then allegedly returned to the Jentges Avenue apartment building shortly after 5 p.m., was confronted by the two victims of the earlier burglary call and repeatedly stabbed both of them, according to Whitney. The men, aged 62 and 63, were found by responding officers, one on the balcony and another inside the apartment. The victim inside was pronounced dead at the scene, while the one on the balcony was taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange, where he died.
Whitney said Castaneda lived in the same apartment building, in a unit adjacent to the one where the killings occurred.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m., an armed robbery was reported at a check- cashing business in the 12800 block of Harbor Boulevard, allegedly by the same suspect, who was reported to have been armed with a knife, according to Whitney. No one was injured in that crime, he said.
About 20 minutes after that, a 54-year-old female employee was stabbed multiple times during a robbery at an insurance business in the area of Harbor and Garden Grove boulevards. The woman was conscious and breathing when taken to a hospital, and she is expected to survive, although with extensive injuries, Whitney said.
``This female employee was very brave,'' Whitney said. ``This guy was armed with knives. She fought as best she could against this armed suspect and sustained multiple stab wounds.''
Minutes later, at 6:09 p.m., a 44-year-old man who was pumping gas at a Chevron station at Harbor Boulevard and Banner Drive had his nose nearly severed and was also stabbed in the back after getting into some type of dispute with the suspect who was putting gas into his gray Mercedes-Benz. Whitney said that attack was carried out with what were described as a pair of machetes.
After attacking the man, the suspect calmly walked back to his car, finished filling his gas tank and drove away, Whitney said. The lieutenant said witnesses at the gas station assisted the wounded man and gave police ``information that was crucial in getting this guy identified.''
At about 6:15 p.m., the suspect allegedly fatally stabbed a 39-year- old man just outside a Subway sandwich shop in the 3800 block of First Street in Santa Ana before going to a 7-Eleven across the street. At the convenience store, he fatally stabbed a 58-year-old security guard, who was not working at the store, Whitney said. After attacking the man from behind, the suspect used a large knife to cut the guard's gun from his belt.
Plainclothes Garden Grove officers spotted the suspect's Mercedes outside the 7-Eleven and called for back-up from Santa Ana police. About a minute later, the suspect, who was armed with a knife and a handgun, emerged from the store and was ordered by officers to drop his weapons. The suspect complied and was taken into custody, Whitney said.
``We have video that shows him attacking these people and conducting these murders,'' Whitney said. ``So, that's going to be great evidence for us for prosecution.''
Police originally said the suspect and the four slain victims were all Hispanic males. On Thursday, however, a police spreadsheet indicated two of the victims were white -- one of the men in the Jentges apartment and the victim inside the 7-Eleven.
Robbery was believed to be the primary motive for the attacks, although police said the suspect did not attempt to rob the victim at the Chevron gas station.
``These were random acts of violence -- our suspect was not involved with any of the victims,'' said Whitney, who said it appeared that the man's only motives were robbery and ``pure hate.''
Police said the stabbings were unrelated to the stabbing death of a 62- year-old woman Tuesday night in a Garden Grove condominium she shared with her 28-year-old son, who is now being sought by police as a person of interest, officials said.
On his Facebook page, Castaneda repeatedly expresses anger toward police and the criminal justice system in general. He complained about Garden Grove police showing up at his home in May with his ex-wife to take custody of his kids. He also makes repeated references to his brother having been fatally shot in Santa Ana.
Details of that shooting were not immediately clear, but Santa Ana police Chief David Valentin confirmed ``the suspect does have a sibling who was killed in an incident in Santa Ana.''