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Suspect Is Arrested in Murder of Teen-Ager

September 23, 1987|MICHAEL CONNELLY and NIESON HIMMEL | Times Staff Writers

A man who was shot by police Tuesday after he ran from officers checking a tip about the abduction of two Chatsworth girls, one of whom was killed, was arrested on suspicion of murder, Los Angeles police said.

Roland Norman Comtois, about 50, was shot in the back and leg after he stepped away from a motor home, ran from police officers and climbed over a wall in the 2800 block of Newell Street in the Elysian Park area.

Comtois, described by police as a transient who has a son living in Van Nuys, was in critical condition at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center after undergoing seven hours of surgery.

'The Right Suspect'

Lt. John Zorn, lead investigator in the shooting death of Wendy Masuhara, 14, and the wounding of her 13-year-old friend, said police had enough evidence to seek a murder charge against Comtois.

"I believe we have the right suspect in custody," Zorn said. "I think we have developed sufficient evidence at this point to charge him."

Zorn would not be specific about the evidence, but another police source said the girl who survived the abduction and shooting had identified a photo of Comtois.

Police also said they were close to capturing a woman accomplice in the abduction but did not identify her or give further information.

Wendy and her companion had gone for a walk in their quiet, upper-middle-class neighborhood near Devonshire Street late Friday when they were kidnaped by a man and woman driving a small motor home. The girls were taken to remote Woolsey Canyon, placed in an abandoned station wagon and both shot in the head.

The 13-year-old survived and was able to summon help. Though in serious condition, she was able to describe to police the man who shot her and the motor home. The drawing of the suspect, published and broadcast by media throughout the Los Angeles area, led to the capture of Comtois, police said.

About 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, a woman anonymously called police and said a man and motor home fitting the descriptions were on Newell Street.

Dead End at River

Patrol officers drove to the address on Newell, a street of small homes and warehouses that dead ends at the Los Angeles River.

Lt. William Hall, heading the investigation of the police shooting, said two officers watched as Comtois transferred belongings from the motor home to a pickup truck parked behind it.

Witness David Perez, 23, an area resident, said Comtois suddenly stopped and ran.

"He started moving quickly down the street," Perez said. "The police drove down there, got out and told him to stop and then started chasing him. They went in a driveway and I heard shots."

Police said Comtois jumped onto a stack of steel drums and scaled a 10-foot wall topped with barbed wire. He landed on an access road along the river bank and ran west.

Hall said one of the pursuing officers, Daniel Labrada, 38, a 17-year veteran, also climbed the wall but got caught on the barbed wire. Labrada yelled for Comtois to stop and then fired four shots, striking him twice. But the suspect continued running until he collapsed and rolled down a 40-foot concrete embankment to the river's edge.

Hall said Comtois was unarmed, but the shooting was not improper. He said California's "fleeing felon law" allows a police officer to shoot at an escaping suspect who is considered dangerous when there are no other means of stopping him.

After the shooting, police towed the beige and brown motor home and the orange Datsun pickup to Parker Center downtown. Both vehicles were searched after warrants were obtained.

No Gun Found

The truck appeared to be loaded with clothing, food, two mattresses and other belongings. But police declined to comment on what evidence was found during the searches, other than to say that no gun had been found.

Neither vehicle was registered to Comtois. However, the pickup was registered to a Raymond Phillip Comtois, a Van Nuys man who police said was believed to be the suspect's son.

Zorn said police believe the motor home was parked in the neighborhood at least one day.

Before Comtois was captured Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an emergency motion to establish a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects in the murder.

And a scholarship fund in memory of Wendy Masuhara was established by her family. Sue Furbotten, a family friend, said contributions to the fund will be used to help young adults of Chatsworth. Donations may be sent to the Wendy K. Masuhara Memorial and Scholarship Fund, in care of Security Pacific National Bank, 21001 Devonshire St., Chatsworth.

Times staff writer Mayerene Barker contributed to this article.

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