An Encino man, arrested Wednesday because he resembled a composite drawing of a suspect in the murder of a San Fernando Valley fast-food restaurant employee, has been released after several hours of police questioning.
The experience made him "feel like a criminal," Timothy Kruska, 23, said after he was freed. He admitted that he looks "an awful lot like the guy in the picture," but said that he is "a good Catholic kid" who was three blocks away from the Taco Bell outlet at the time of the $200 holdup and fatal shooting on Sunday.
"So I've got long hair and I hate to shave," Kruska, who works as a handyman and fixes motorcycles for a living, said during an interview at his home. "So what? I didn't think I'd be accused of murdering somebody."
Kruska was released Wednesday night after homicide detectives questioned, photographed and fingerprinted him and searched his house. Detectives said Thursday they released Kruska without booking him because the witness who helped them create the composite drawing told them Kruska was not the right man.
Police said they still believe the composite depicts a suspect in the case. Taco Bell has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer of Leroy Moore, 25, assistant manager of the firm's outlet on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana.
"We've detained two other people with this particular drawing because people called in and said they've seen the guy in the picture, but those two were eliminated in an hour," West Valley Division Detective Stan Miller said. "But this guy (Kruska) was very, very close to the composite. It took a little longer to know for sure that he wasn't the right guy."
Kruska was arrested Wednesday in the San Fernando Courthouse when a legally blind court employee, who said she can see some shapes and facial details at close range, alerted a judge to Kruska's resemblance to the drawing. Kruska was lying down on a bench in the courthouse.
"I was trying to clear up a problem in traffic court, a small problem, a very minor problem," Kruska said. "I was just lying there, waiting for the court to open, and I had my eyes closed about 10 minutes. When I opened them I see these marshals standing there and the judge looking at this drawing in the newspaper and I said, 'Oh, wait. I know what you're thinking. I'm not the guy."'
Startled by Resemblance
Kruska said he and his mother had seen the composite on television Tuesday night and had been startled by the resemblance.
"She said I should shave or cut my hair or something and I just said, 'I didn't do anything. Why should I?' " Kruska recalled. "I'm sorry I look like some idiot who runs around shooting people, but that isn't my fault."
Kruska said he told investigators that he passed by the Taco Bell on his way home from a friend's house the morning after the shooting and noticed the police activity. But he had not been in the restaurant for almost a year, he said.
Although he said he was angered by the experience, Kruska said the mistake was understandable and that he believes composite drawings are an effective way to solve crimes.
"If it helps catch some guy, there's nothing wrong with it," he said. "But there's been a lot of cases where some innocent people have been thrown in jail. This is one of them."
Miller acknowledged Thursday that the drawing could resemble many people.
"If you went out to the Renaissance Faire right now," he said, "you'd arrest half the people there."