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California and the West

Probe Widens in Corrections Officer's Roadside Slaying

Crime: Investigators examine victim's personal and professional life. Death was initially thought to be case of 'road rage.'

January 20, 1998|GEOFF BOUCHER and SCOTT GLOVER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ANAHEIM — Investigators searching for answers in the roadside slaying of an off-duty California corrections officer said Monday they have widened their inquiry beyond a random, road rage scenario to look for clues in the victim's personal and professional life.

Detectives, working around the clock since the Saturday night shooting along the Riverside Freeway, have been talking with prison and parole officials and re-interviewing the victim's husband for any insights into the killing, Anaheim police said.

"We can't say right now that this is a case of road rage," Lt. Joe Reiss said. "We don't know what the motivation was, and at this point, we're absolutely looking at every angle."

Elizabeth Begaren, 40, worked at the California State Prison in the Los Angeles County community of Lancaster, where she was assigned to investigate crimes within the lockup.

Begaren, who lived in Lancaster, was gunned down about 11:15 p.m. Saturday on a freeway offramp in Anaheim as her husband and 10-year-old stepdaughter watched from inside the family car, according to Anaheim Police Sgt. Joe Vargas. The officer, off duty and unarmed, got out of the car, "confronted" four men in a large, dark car and was shot at least twice, Reiss said.

Police initially said the shooting followed an extended chase, perhaps 15 minutes long, and that the victim and her family pulled off the freeway at East Street to elude their pursuers. That scenario led investigators to speculate that the shooting may have been a case of random violence.

But on Monday, Reiss said the events unfolded a bit differently, making the likely motive less clear-cut.

"It wasn't a chase per se," Reiss said. The victim's husband, Nuzzi Begaren, told police he was at the wheel of the family' blue Kia Sportage when he and his daughter noticed a car following them. He said he drove on and off the freeway several times to see if the trailing car would drive on, police said.

"We're not sure exactly when and where the dad and child picked up [the presence of] the other car . . . but they said they were followed, not chased," Reiss said.

At the East Street exit, the victim apparently got out of the Kia after the pursuers overtook the family car and blocked its path.

Police said Nuzzi Begaren and his daughter were unsure how many of the men fired, nor could they describe the attackers. The victim's husband said freeway construction and darkness made it difficult to identify the vehicle following him, and the glare of headlights made it hard to see the faces of the silhouetted attackers when the shooting took place.

Nuzzi Begaren, a native of Romania, married Elizabeth Begaren about six months ago, and the couple moved into a modern, two-story home with a Spanish tile roof in the Antelope Valley community. Their neighbors said Monday that they knew little about the recent arrivals.

At the Lancaster prison, flags flew at half staff Monday for the popular employee. Begaren was remembered for her bubbly personality and dedicated work ethic, and some of her shocked co-workers met with counselors after hearing the news, prison spokeswoman Diane Gonzales said. Even some inmates were "very sorry" to hear of her death, she said.

Begaren, a corrections officer since 1989, had been assigned for the last 18 months to the prison's Investigative Service's Unit, also known as the security squad, Gonzales said.

The 10-member squad investigates inmate-related crimes within prison walls, including stabbings, drug dealing and gang activity, she said. Squad members also provide security during prisoner transfers.

The spokeswoman said there was nothing in Elizabeth Begaren's work history to suggest that her killing might be related to her job. "There is no correlation," Gonzales said.

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