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Suspect Has Drug Ties, Police Say

Fugitive in a Burbank officer's slaying may have been based at the hotel where it occurred.

November 18, 2003|Andrew Blankstein, Richard Fausset and Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

The 19-year-old fugitive who started a deadly firefight with Burbank police in a hotel parking lot Saturday had been staying in a room there for the last month, possibly using it as a base of operations for dealing drugs or guns, a Burbank police captain said Monday.

David A. Garcia remained the subject of an intensemanhunt involving at least six law enforcement agencies.

Los Angeles Police Department officers, meanwhile, served seven warrants at locations frequented by associates of Garcia and Ramon Aranda, Garcia's alleged accomplice in the shooting. They recovered at least half a dozen weapons, a law enforcement source said Monday.

Garcia disappeared from the parking lot of the Ramada Inn at 2900 N. San Fernando Blvd. on Saturday after he and Aranda allegedly opened fire on two officers, killing rookie Matthew Pavelka, 26, and seriously wounding veteran Gregory Campbell, 41. The officers returned fire and killed Aranda, 25, of Sun Valley.

The law enforcement source Monday identified the two suspects as members of a Sun Valley-area street gang. Although not confirming that the two were gang members, Burbank Police Capt. Gordon Bowers and other officers said the men have criminal records.

Garcia's record included multiple drug-related charges.

Campbell, a decorated, 15-year veteran officer, was unaware of Garcia's history when he pulled up to the black Cadillac Escalade parked in a hotel lot, Bowers said.

The officer saw two men sitting in a car without license plates in an area well-known for drug activity, auto thefts and auto burglaries, according to Burbank police. Officials said they assume Campbell grew suspicious of the scene and checked it out.

Bowers gave the following account of the events that came next:

At 6:26 p.m., Campbell, patrolling the area alone, issued a radio call from his squad car, indicating that he was making a traffic stop of the Cadillac sport utility vehicle. He told the dispatcher he was in the Ramada Inn parking lot.

Within 20 seconds Campbell called a "Code Six" -- a request for a backup officer -- meaning he had decided that the situation should be treated with more caution than a typical traffic incident. He made the call from his portable radio, which probably meant that he had stepped away from his car.

At 6:29 p.m., dispatchers received a call from Pavelka's portable radio. He was screaming.

"The words were indecipherable," Bowers said. "But it was obvious it was an emergency and he needed help."

The dispatchers immediately issued a distress call, sending numerous other officers to the scene.

"We don't know if they were shooting when [Pavelka] pulled up or shortly after that," Bowers said.

Detectives continued to piece together details of the incident Monday. Based on interviews with Campbell, who was shot in the stomach and neck and is recovering in a local hospital, police said they believe the two suspects got out of the car and began shooting after the officer asked Aranda, the driver, to step outside the vehicle.

The suspects were armed with two pistols each and fired 30 shots, police said. According to one law enforcement official, 12 shots struck Pavelka.

After Garcia escaped on foot, authorities found an AR 15 assault weapon in the SUV and other guns and ammunition in and around the vehicle.

They also found a plastic kitchen container with 3 ounces of methamphetamine, although Bowers said it did not appear that Garcia had been operating a meth lab in the hotel.

As Burbank officers mourned their fallen colleague and searched for his alleged killer, grief and frustration dominated another scene about two miles from the site of the shooting.

By sundown outside the small house on Norris Avenue in Sun Valley where Aranda had grown up, nearly 40 friends and family members had arrived to offer condolences and express their shock.

Jessie Aranda, 30, said younger brother Ramon had never been a gang member and had lived in Mexico for the last year.

Police continued to seek the public's help in finding Garcia, who is considered armed and dangerous. He is 6 foot 1 and 220 pounds with a shaved head and brown eyes. Anyone with information is asked to call Burbank detectives at (818) 238-3000 or (818) 238-3130.

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