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Police Surround Ranch After Oxnard Kidnapping

August 17, 2003|Holly Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Dozens of Ventura County police officers surrounded a sprawling ranch near Santa Paula late Saturday where they believed two gunmen were holed up after kidnapping a man earlier in the day in Oxnard.

The officers were assisted by two SWAT units and a sheriff's helicopter as they surrounded the property along South Mountain Road. A family of five and two other men were evacuated from two houses on the ranch.

Although it was uncertain whether the gunmen were there, authorities said two suspicious vehicles were spotted on the property.

In addition to the two SWAT units, a hostage negotiator was called to the scene shortly after 9 p.m. Authorities said that is standard procedure in such cases.

By 10 p.m., the Sheriff's Department's SWAT unit was preparing to enter the ranch property. Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Nelson, who was on the scene, said there were some tactical advantages for the special weapons team in moving after nightfall.

"It's a big deal for us any time we have subjects who are armed and dangerous," he said.

Police said they were struck by the brazen nature of the kidnapping, which occurred in a middle-class neighborhood in Oxnard in broad daylight.

"I've been on the force 26 years, and I've never dealt with an armed kidnapping," said Oxnard Police Cmdr. Bryan MacDonald, who was helping to coordinate operations at the scene. "In fact, armed kidnapping is extremely unusual for Ventura County."

The ordeal began about 9:30 a.m., when two gunmen grabbed a man as he walked along Douglas Avenue, shoved him in a car and sped off, authorities said. The victim was not immediately identified.

Witnesses reported the incident to police and a bloodhound was brought to the neighborhood to assist in the investigation.

Picking up the scent of the suspects, the bloodhound hours later led police to the ranch property at least 20 miles away.

California Highway Patrol officers and sheriff's deputies were called out about 2 p.m. to help seal off the area, stretching from California 126 on the west to San Cayetano Road on the east.

A couple and their three children who lived in a house on the ranch, and two men who lived in a separate dwelling, were evacuated.

Information they gave police was helpful in the investigation, authorities said.

Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez declined to comment about the situation, citing concern for the safety of residents who live along South Mountain Road. Neighbors there were advised to lock their doors and stay inside.

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