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Ventura County

Man Sought for Questions in Slaying of Fillmore Teen

January 10, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Authorities investigating the slaying of a 19-year-old college student from Fillmore released a description and composite sketch Thursday of a man they want to question.

Ventura County sheriff's detectives said they want to learn why the man was on a rural stretch of South Mountain Road on the same day authorities found Valerie Zavala's partially clothed body stuffed inside a drainage pipe under the road.

The man is described as Latino, 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 8 and of average build with a slight pot belly. He has black hair and is in his late 20 to 30s. He was seen wearing faded black jeans and a white T-shirt.

"This particular area of road is remote and the chances of someone being there on that day are slim," Sgt. Ron Nelson said. "It could be a lead or not."

South Mountain Road runs just south of California 126 in an agricultural area between Santa Paula and Fillmore.

A witness has told authorities the man was driving a teal green minivan in the area of the drainage pipe about 9 a.m. New Year's Day. Zavala's body was found that day about an hour later. She was suffocated and beaten, authorities said.

There have been several pieces of evidence recovered in the case but no arrests.

Zavala, a former Fillmore High cheerleader who had been attending San Jose State, was killed after leaving a New Year's Eve party in Fillmore. Authorities believe she stopped for gas at a Fillmore Texaco station before she was killed.

Shortly after Zavala's funeral Tuesday, authorities scoured the grounds behind the Fillmore church where she had just been eulogized and collected pieces of evidence. Nelson said Zavala may have been killed in the parking lot behind St. Francis of Assisi Church.

"That site is connected with her death," Nelson said Thursday.

The car Zavala was driving also was found New Year's Day in a parking lot near the church.

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