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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Suspect Arrested in Strobel Slaying

Crime: Police say Ryan Simas drove the getaway car in the 1993 stabbing death of the Ventura athlete. Another man has admitted to the killing.

May 04, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Seven years after popular high school football star Jesse Strobel was stabbed to death walking home from his father's Ventura pizzeria, police Wednesday arrested the man they say drove the getaway car.

Ventura police detectives, assisted by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, took Ryan Joseph Simas, 24, into custody at a Silver Lake apartment in Los Angeles that he shared with his girlfriend, Ventura Police Sgt. Bob Anderson said. He is being held without bail on suspicion of murder.

The Simas arrest is the second in the sensational case, which went unsolved for six years. Last April, an informant's tip led officers to Santa Paula gang member Jose "Pepe" Castillo, who in August admitted killing Strobel during what police believe was a botched robbery.

"It was six years for Castillo and seven for Simas," Anderson said. "It feels good. We notified the family and for them it was a sense of relief."

Strobel's grandfather, John Strobel III of Ventura, said Wednesday night the family always believed several people were responsible for the murder.

"We would like to see justice done but we don't know how much we will see in this part of the case," Strobel said.

In fact, prosecutors said they have decided to charge Simas, who was 17 at the time of the killing, as a juvenile. This means that even if he is convicted he could be free in a year because no one can be held in a youth authority facility past age 25.

Though Castillo, who was 15 at the time of Strobel's killing, was also charged as a juvenile in the case, he has agreed to a life sentence in an unrelated murder case in Santa Paula.

Simas' arrest is another chapter in a killing that shocked the Ventura community and went unsolved for years. Strobel was a bright student and member of the varsity football team at Ventura High School. He was walking home about 10 p.m. Jan. 29, 1993, when he was confronted by a carload of young men just a few blocks from his home, authorities said.

"They saw him walking along and Simas maneuvered the car into his path of travel," Anderson said. "Then they got out of the car and confronted Jesse--we believe for the purposes of robbery."

All of the men kicked and punched Strobel repeatedly before Castillo brandished a knife and stabbed him in the chest before taking off, police said.

Strobel fought back fiercely. After the stabbing, he crawled to a nearby house, where he was found and taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

During Castillo's sentencing in Juvenile Court, then-Ventura County Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren described Strobel's killing as being "as cruel as I've ever seen."

Although Simas was questioned by police early on, they lacked the evidence to arrest him, Anderson said.

Immediately after the killing, police detectives, acting on tips, focused their efforts on an unnamed classmate of Strobel's at the high school. For years, the investigation centered on this person before a break came last year that changed the direction of the case.

An informant working with detectives trying to solve the June 1998 slaying of a Santa Paula shopkeeper told authorities Castillo had participated in both crimes.

At the time of Castillo's arrest in the Strobel case, Anderson said, officers reinterviewed Simas and searched his Los Angeles-area apartment. A graduate of St. Bonaventure High, Simas left Ventura County years ago and moved to Los Angeles and worked as a cook at a Hollywood cafe. Anderson said he does not have any major offenses on his record.

No evidence was found during the search, authorities said. But Castillo and at least two other men involved in the attack on Strobel have identified Simas as the getaway driver and one or more of those men have agreed to testify against Simas, authorities said.

The other men in the car, whom authorities would not name, reportedly both live in Santa Paula. Prosecutors have decided not to file charges against them--even though they participated in beating Strobel--in exchange for their testimony in Simas' case.

"Their involvement was less than the other guys and we do need cooperation," Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon said Wednesday of the decision not to prosecute the other men.

Anderson said the case against Simas was essentially wrapped up last April when other men in the car identified Simas as being involved and driving the group in his family's sedan to the crime scene.

Prosecutors, though, declined to immediately file charges against Simas, claiming more investigation was necessary, Anderson said. No additional evidence was found during the last year to further implicate Simas, and the prosecutor was reluctant to say what more was needed.

"There was something else we were attempting to corroborate that would have given us some other options [with Simas' case]," Simon said.

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