SAN DIEGO — A California Highway Patrol officer was arrested by San Diego police Thursday in the murder of a San Diego State University coed whose body was thrown over a bridge railing into a creek bed off Interstate 15 on Dec. 27.
Officer Craig Alan Peyer, 36, a 13-year CHP veteran, was arrested shortly after 7 p.m. at his home in Poway by homicide detectives and charged with the murder of Cara Evelyn Knott, 20, of El Cajon. Friends said Peyer is married and has a baby.
Investigators said Peyer, who worked a 2:30 p.m. shift, was on duty at the time of the murder. He is only the second CHP officer ever charged with murder while on duty. In 1984, Officer George Michael Gwaltney was convicted in a civil rights homicide case stemming from the rape and murder of a young woman he stopped near Barstow.
Miss Knott's fully clothed body was found by her brother-in-law after family members launched an all-night search for the woman when she failed to return from a visit to her boyfriend's house in Escondido. Authorities had told the family she had not been missing long enough to warrant a search.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph L. Van Orshoven told a press conference that Peyer probably pulled Miss Knott's car over while she was en route home. A coroner's report attributed Miss Knott's death to strangulation and did not say if she was sexually molested.
In a bizarre twist, KCST Channel 39 broadcast a report the day after Miss Knott's body was found featuring a ridealong a reporter had with Peyer, who advised viewers, particularly women, not to accept rides from strangers if their cars break down.
"Stay in the vehicle. Lock all doors. Turn on the emergency flashers and wait for help to come. Even if you have to wait all night, it's better to be in the safety of your vehicle and spend the night than to try to walk and get assistance," Peyer said. "Anything can happen. Being a female, you can be raped, robbed if you're a male, all the way to where you could be killed. Once you get in that other person's car you're at their mercy."
Ben Killingsworth, chief of the CHP's border division, said that Peyer had been stationed in the San Diego area for eight years. He was arrested without incident and is being held without bail.
"We have confidence in this case in that we have filed a very serious accusation against a young man who has a very clean record," Van Orshoven said.
Tearfully, Killingsworth told reporters, "It's probably the worst thing that's happened to me on the job."
San Diego police homicide investigators informed the CHP on Jan. 5 that Peyer was a suspect. "We took him off patrol rather quickly," Killingsworth said.
Investigators did not reveal the evidence that led them to Peyer, but on official said the arrest was aided by "bits and pieces of information" received from several citizens "that we put together."
Killingsworth said there was no record of Peyer stopping Miss Knott's car. Investigators have determined that Peyer did not know Miss Knott.