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Woman Recalls Terrifying Chase

Court: Witness says Vincent Sanchez, charged in the slaying of a Moorpark woman, tried to ram her car.

April 11, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Murder suspect Vincent Sanchez tried six times to ram his truck into the car of a terrified 21-year-old woman as she desperately tried to evade him 18 months ago during a high-speed chase through eastern Ventura County, the woman testified Wednesday.

Identified only as Makala, the woman told a judge that she feared for her life as Sanchez brazenly pursued her from Newbury Park to the darkened streets of suburban Simi Valley in October 2000.

"I was scared and shaking," the woman testified during Sanchez's preliminary hearing on murder, attempted rape and assault charges. "I just wanted to get away."

The testimony could prove significant to the prosecution's case because the alleged incident occurred nine months before Sanchez fatally shot 20-year-old Megan Barroso of Moorpark after a freeway pursuit in the same area.

The Moorpark College student's bullet-riddled car was found abandoned under a freeway overpass in the early morning hours of July 5, 2001, with the engine running. Her remains were recovered a month later in a canyon near Simi Valley.

Sanchez, a 31-year-old handyman who has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting seven women prior to the homicide, has also admitted killing Barroso but denies that he did so during a rape and kidnap attempt. If convicted on all counts, Sanchez could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors are attempting to demonstrate that they have sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

In addition to the murder charge, Sanchez faces felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon and attempted kidnapping for the alleged attack on Makala, as well as attempted kidnapping charges involving another woman.

According to Makala's testimony, the October 2000 chase occurred about 2:30 a.m. as she drove home from work. A bartender at the time, Makala testified that she routinely kept an eye out for drunk drivers when heading home.

On that night, she said, she initially thought the driver of the white Chevrolet truck behind her was under the influence, based on his erratic movements.

At the Olsen Road offramp from Highway 23, the truck came within inches of hitting her rear bumper. She sped away and the truck pursued, passing her, then slowing down. This continued until she turned onto eastbound Highway 118, she said.

It was miles later, when Makala noticed the truck was still behind her with its headlights turned off, that she became frightened, she testified. She turned off the highway. The truck followed. She ran a red light and the truck still bore down.

"I was flying," she said, describing how she raced down city streets at 90 mph in her red Honda Civic to get away.

At two residential intersections in eastern Simi Valley, she said, the driver of the truck attempted to run into her car, at which point she decided to head to the police station.

As she drove west on Alamo Street, she said, the truck appeared three more times and almost rammed her car--the last time in front of the police station driveway.

Makala testified that she got a good look at the driver through her rear-view mirror that night and again nine months later.

On July 8, she said, she was driving home with friends and noticed a similar white truck on Highway 23. She pulled up alongside it and recognized the driver as the man who had chased her, she said.

One of her friends took down the license plate number. So far, there has been no testimony about whether the plate matched the defendant's vehicle.

Makala testified that she identified Sanchez after seeing his picture in the newspaper when he was arrested for a string of unsolved sexual assaults that had terrified Simi Valley residents for years.

On cross-examination, public defender Neil B. Quinn questioned Makala's description of the chase and the plausibility of six near run-ins with the truck.

Quinn asked whether there could have been two trucks, and he suggested that Makala's emotions over the arrest of the long-sought "Simi Valley serial rapist" could have swayed her account.

Makala acknowledged that after seeing a newspaper article and then learning that Sanchez was a suspect in the Barroso slaying, she felt she had narrowly escaped being raped.

"I flipped out," she said. "I drove home every night. I thought, 'What if that was me?'"

Testimony is scheduled to resume today.

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