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Suspected Killer of Officer Arrested

David Garcia, fugitive in the Nov.15 Burbank shooting, is found in a Tijuana home and turned over to U.S. marshals.

November 28, 2003|Nicholas Riccardi and Sue Fox | Times Staff Writers

The 19-year-old fugitive suspected of killing rookie Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka was captured in Mexico on Thursday, bringing a measure of relief to a grieving department on Thanksgiving Day.

David A. Garcia was arrested by Mexican authorities at a home in Tijuana, nearly two weeks after he and an accomplice allegedly opened fire on Pavelka and a fellow officer in a hotel parking lot, said Burbank Police Chief Tom Hoefel.

Police believe that fellow gang members helped Garcia evade an intensive manhunt and squired him into Mexico several days ago.

"When it comes to murdering one of our police officers, we don't forgive, we don't forget and we don't surrender," said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, one of several law enforcement officials to join Hoefel at an evening news conference at Burbank police headquarters.

After learning of Garcia's arrest early Thursday afternoon, Hoefel drove to Simi Valley to tell Pavelka's family.

"We've been waiting for this moment and hoping it would come sooner rather than later," said Pavelka's father, Michael, a detective who has served in the Los Angeles Police Department for 29 years.

Pavelka, 26, a charming, light-hearted officer with a crown of spiky orange hair, was shot to death Nov. 15 as he responded to a fellow officer's call for backup. He was the first officer killed in the line of duty in the Burbank department's 82-year history.

According to the police account of the incident, Officer Gregory Campbell, 41, a veteran of the Burbank force, was on patrol near the Burbank Airport when he spotted two men sitting in a black Cadillac Escalade with no plates in a Ramada Inn parking lot. Police said the area is known for gang- and drug-related activity.

Campbell radioed for assistance and Pavelka arrived almost immediately.

Police believe that the men, later identified as Ramon Aranda, 25, and Garcia, jumped out of the vehicle and started shooting, striking both officers multiple times. The officers returned fire and killed Aranda, but Garcia ran away. Officials said they found an assault rifle, ammunition clips and methamphetamine in the vehicle.

Campbell was seriously wounded in the shootout and remains hospitalized.

Pavelka, a Simi Valley High School graduate and Air Force veteran who had joined the police department 10 months earlier, died during surgery at a local hospital.

More than 200 federal, state and local officers combed the northeast San Fernando Valley in search of Garcia, who was know to frequent the Sun Valley area. The dragnet tightened as they arrested more than 60 people -- including Garcia's father and twin brother -- on suspicion of harboring the fugitive, gun charges and other crimes.

Investigators believe that Garcia had been trafficking in guns or drugs at the hotel for a month before the shooting.

Several days ago, authorities said they determined that Garcia had crossed the border. They alerted their Mexican counterparts, who arrested Garcia early Thursday afternoon.

Hoefel said he had few details of the arrest. Garcia was brought across the border and turned over to U.S. marshals about 2:30 p.m. Officials would not disclose where Garcia was being held.They said he was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on charges of murder and attempted murder. He is expected to be eligible for the death penalty.

Mexican authorities have previously resisted returning fugitives to the United States to face the death penalty, but most of those cases have involved Mexican citizens. Garcia, like his parents, is a U.S. citizen.

"Therefore, the Mexican government decided to treat him as undesirable, somebody they wanted to deport and get out of the country," Cooley said.

Hoefel praised the Mexican authorities as "wonderful" and also thanked other agencies for helping in the search in California. He added more arrests may be made.

Authorities said they are still determining who may be eligible for the $110,000 in reward money promised by the cities of Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles, as well as Los Angeles County.

Outside the Burbank Police Department on Thursday night, a statue of an officer and firefighter was ringed with rows of bouquets and candles paying tribute to Pavelka. Handwritten banners hung from planters.

Several officers and their families emerged from the building to watch Hoefel announce Garcia's capture. Pavelka's wounded partner, Campbell, watched the televised news conference from his hospital bed, police said.

"It will never bring back our loss," Hoefel said of the arrest, "but there's a tremendous sigh of relief."

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