The Pine Cone's third story of the week

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Fresno gang members in nasty Peninsula crime spree

By MARY BROWNFIELD

Published: December 3, 2010

JUDITH SALAZAR, 46, was murdered in her Pacific Grove home late Sunday night, and her alleged killer was airlifted to a San Jose trauma center for treatment of his own knife wounds, according to police, who offered no explanation for how he was injured.

Seaside resident Sunny Nguyen, 26, underwent emergency surgery and remains hospitalized under 24-hour police custody, according to P.G. Police Chief Darius Engles. His two small children, who were in the home at the time, have since been reunited with their mother — Nguyen’s ex-girlfriend and the daughter of the victim.

Police discovered the horrific scene after a cab driver reported Nguyen went into the house on 17 Mile Drive and did not return to pay his fare.

“Thank God he called us and didn’t just drive off,” commented Engles, who would not say how much time had lapsed between Nguyen’s entering the house and the driver’s reporting the fare skip to police.

Cops arrived and knocked on the front door, but no one answered, according to Engles. They noticed movement he characterized as “odd” and heard sounds coming from inside the house, so they went to a side window and peered in, finding “what appeared to be blood splattered on the wall.”

Firefighters who had been summoned to the house helped officers in through an open window, and in the bedroom, they found Salazar stabbed to death, lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Nguyen was lying nearby, also suffering from knife wounds. He was reportedly combative as medics bandaged his injuries and loaded him onto a gurney so he could be taken to the airport by ambulance for airlifting to a trauma center in San Jose.

Engles said only forensic analysis will be able to determine whether Nguyen’s wounds were self-inflicted, or if Salazar stabbed him during the altercation, or both.

“He has lacerations and also what may be a couple of puncture wounds,” he said. “We are going to depend on some forensic analysis to determine how those occurred.”

Engles reported officers collected “a number of knives” from the residence.

“We’re not sure if he brought something with him, or if he just used what was available at the residence,” he said.

Police also found Nguyen’s children — an 8-month-old boy and a 2-year-old girl — in another room, uninjured, and they were taken to PGPD and cared for until Monterey County Child Protective Services could retrieve them.

“Fortunately, I have staff here who have kids and were comfortable taking care of them,” Engles said. “We got formula for the baby and grapes for the 2-year-old, and diapers.”

CPS retrieved the children, but before they arrived in Salinas, their mother returned to the home on 17 Mile Drive where they all had lived and learned her mother had been stabbed to death and her ex-boyfriend was the prime suspect.

As soon as officers decided the woman and her children should be reunited, the CPS worker turned around and drove back to Pacific Grove P.D. Engles said the woman and her children are staying with family.

“Of course, this is a very traumatic time, and we’ve respected their space,” he said. “We clearly have some followup to do with friends and family, but you want to step back and let them catch their breath.”

Meanwhile, detectives and forensic technicians, with the help of Monterey County District Attorney’s investigator Adam Sepagan (a former PGPD officer), and others, are continuing their investigation. Engles said they have spoken with Nguyen and anticipate he will be well enough to be moved to the infirmary at the Monterey County Jail.

“His state of mind is part of the investigation,” Engles pointed out, and that could be determined by what he said to the cab driver during the drive over, among other things.

“Was it premeditated, or the heat of passion, or something that occurred once he got there? Those are all part of the investigation that we hope we’ll be able to determine,” he said.

“Obviously, he’s in custody for the homicide because we have probable cause to believe he did it. The fine points of when exactly did it occur to him to commit the crime are still under investigation.”