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Police Looking at an Oxnard Man in Killing

July 31, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five days after a Port Hueneme mother of two was shot to death in a Ventura industrial park, homicide detectives have focused their investigation on an Oxnard man who was an acquaintance of the woman, authorities said.

Neither the name of the man nor the nature of his relationship with the woman were disclosed Tuesday, but detectives have interviewed his mother and others who may know him, Ventura Police Lt. Doug Auldridge said.

Investigators returned to the scene of the crime Tuesday to search for additional clues.

"This is someone we are looking at, but it doesn't mean it's him," Auldridge said. "We are going back to the area to canvass it and check back with the local businesses and take statements."

The body of Irene Imelda Mata, 22, was found just after 8:30 a.m. Friday slumped in the front seat of a white 1991 Chevy Camaro in the 3000 block of Bunsen Avenue, near fields adjacent to the Ventura Freeway.

The car, which rear-ended an abandoned blue van after the shooting, was registered to a Ventura woman, 41, who also was an acquaintance of the man, Auldridge said. A firearm was found near the scene.

Witnesses told officers that a man they saw fleeing the scene appeared to be in his 20s, was about 6 feet tall and was wearing a white shirt and brown pants.

Several people told investigators that shortly after the shooting, the man disappeared amid golfers teeing off at nearby Buenaventura Golf Club.

In an eight-hour search, police dogs and SWAT members scoured neighborhoods and the Santa Clara riverbed, while a Ventura County sheriff's helicopter buzzed overhead.

For the last year, Mata had lived with her 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter in a small duplex in a working-class section of Port Hueneme.

Neighbors said Mata sometimes left her two children unsupervised.

"She left her kids alone a lot," said Lisa Marquardt, who lived next door to Mata. "Her son would ask us where his mommy was. He loved her so much."

Mata was arrested June 1 and booked on suspicion of child abuse after allegedly leaving her children unattended while she went to buy them dinner, said Melanie Miles, the public defender who represented her.

The children have been in county-run foster homes since.

Six days before her death, Mata appeared in court and was scheduled to return for a status hearing in late August.

Mata served time at the Branch Jail Honor Farm before posting $55,000 bail earlier this month, court records show. In September, she was arrested after getting into a fight with another woman.

Miles said Mata was devastated when her two children were placed in foster care, and vowed to get them back.

"She seemed like a good mother who was trying to make ends meet

Alejandro Arroyo, the father of Mata's daughter, said he was shocked to learn about the shooting. The two had broken off their four-year relationship a year ago, he said, but he had talked to her as recently as Thursday.

"I don't even know what to think about right now because I won't believe it's real until I see her," said Arroyo, 24, of Oxnard. "I just talked with her on the phone about what we needed to do to get the kids back."

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