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Arrest in fatal stabbing

Detectives: Canyon Country transient slain during fight near riverbed homeless encampment

Posted: October 27, 2009 10:05 p.m.
Updated: October 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Toni Martinez, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, carries bags of evidence from the crime scene Tuesday afternoon. A homeless man was stabbed to death Monday night in the Santa Clara River near the Soledad Shopping Center.

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Deputies arrested a Canyon Country man Tuesday morning suspected in the stabbing death of an apparent transient in a local homeless encampment, authorities said.

Julian Gonzales, 40, a suspect in the Monday night slaying, was arrested on suspicion of a parole violation, said Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Dave Dolson of the Homicide Bureau.

Gonzales has not, however, been formally arrested for the killing. He is being held without bail.

A man was stabbed to death Monday night in a homeless encampment in a Canyon Country riverbed, shocking local shop owners and other transients, who said they rarely see serious violence among the homeless in the area.

The victim, believed to be a 34-year-old transient, was stabbed during a fight after he and a small group of companions appeared to have been drinking, Dolson said. The victim's name was not released.

About 8:27 p.m. Monday, the man was found wounded but still alive in the rugged Santa Clara riverbed near the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway, a sheriff's report said.

He was taken to a local hospital where he died about 10 p.m., officials said.

Homicide detectives stayed at the crime scene into Tuesday morning. Investigators were taking photographs and bags of evidence from the crime scene.

"It was a very small clearing in the brush with a mattress," Dolson said. "It appeared people were using that as their sleeping quarters.

"It's been all night we've been working on this."

Dolson said people in the wash witnessed the stabbing, and detectives were still investigating the incident.

Unusual activity
One homeless man who slept in a tent next to the crime scene said he heard a fight break out Monday night but didn't think anything of it.

"They always get drunk and fight amongst each other," said Gary Meacham, 56, who added he did not check to see what happened until he was woken up early Tuesday morning by the sound of investigators searching for evidence.

"(There are) lots of fist fights," he said. "I didn't know it was going to be like that."

Meacham said he believed the stabbing may have been an act of retaliation from a past fight that involved men in that group.

The crime scene sits in the brushy riverbed behind some apartments and an old strip mall. Shop owners there said they often see transients roaming the area, but the homeless rarely seem to be involved in serious crimes.

"Ninety percent of the guys are no problem at all," said Pastor George McLeary, who runs a food pantry through The Church of Hope, located in the shopping center.

"They need a little bread and a little food and they move along, and they keep busy. They find odd jobs, they clear weeds, (and) they do what they can."

While McLeary said general crime in the area appears to be increasing, he added he has only heard of a couple of major incidents in the encampment over the past 18 years.

Safety concerns
Meanwhile, others have asked the center's property manager to increase security levels.

"I have 30 women in my employment," said John Smith, owner of Molly Maid, a housecleaning business. "With a murder like that ... they're not going to feel very confident about coming to work."

Soledad Shopping Center property manager Louisa Verner said she is in talks with the center's owner about the issue.

She also said security guards and sheriff's deputies make several daily visits to the area.

Smith said the stabbing delivered a one-two punch of shock and sadness.

"I am familiar ... with seeing them sometimes and occasionally helping them out," Smith said of the local transients. "It's always sad when something like this happens."

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