A 33-year-old Garden Grove man suspected in a violent two-city spree of stabbings and robberies that left four people dead and two others injured was charged Friday with four counts of murder and other felonies that could land him on death row.
Zachary Castaneda, refused to come out of his jail cell for his Friday afternoon arraignment in Santa Ana. Eventually, he entered a not-guilty plea from his cell on the murder charges, along with one count of attempted murder, one count of aggravated mayhem, three robbery counts and single counts of assault with a deadly weapon and burglary.
The charges against Zachary Castaneda include special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during a robbery, opening him to a possible death sentence. A decision will be made at a later date on whether prosecutors will actually seek death for Castaneda.
Castaneda remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail.
He is accused of carrying out a two-hour rolling crime spree in Garden Grove and Santa Ana between roughly 4 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The motivation behind the spree remains a mystery. Garden Grove police Lt. Carl Whitney said Castaneda, a documented gang member with a violent past, has not cooperated with investigators.
“He remained violent with us through the night,” Whitney said Thursday. “He never told us why he did this.”
Whitney stressed, however, “There was no indication this was a hate crime.”
Wednesday’s crime spree began around 4:10 p.m., when police received a report of a burglary at an apartment complex in the 12100 block of Jentges Avenue in Garden Grove. Police had not yet responded to that call when they received a report at 4:23 p.m. of an armed robbery at a nearby bakery in the 13000 block of Chapman Avenue, Whitney said. No one was injured in that robbery, which was carried out by a man with a knife and possibly a handgun.
The suspect then allegedly returned to the Jentges Avenue apartment building shortly after 5 p.m., was confronted by the two victims of the earlier burglary and repeatedly stabbed both of them, according to Whitney. The men, aged 62 and 63, were found by responding officers, one on the balcony and another inside the apartment. The victim inside was pronounced dead at the scene, while the one on the balcony was taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange, where he died.
The victims were identified as Helmuth Hauprich, 62, and Gerardo Fresnares Beltran, 63.
Whitney said Castaneda lived in the same apartment building, in a unit adjacent to the one where the killings occurred.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, an armed robbery was reported at a check-cashing business in the 12800 block of Harbor Boulevard. No one was injured in that crime, Whitney said.
About 20 minutes later, a man armed with a pair of knives attacked a 54-year-old female employee of an insurance business in the area of Harbor and Garden Grove boulevards. The woman was conscious and breathing when taken to a hospital, and she is expected to survive, although with extensive injuries, Whitney said. Graphic video of that assault shows the woman doing everything she can to fight off the attacker.
Minutes later, at 6:09 p.m., a 44-year-old man who was pumping gas at a Chevron station at Harbor Boulevard and Banner Drive had his nose nearly severed and was also stabbed in the back after getting into some type of dispute with the suspect. Whitney said that attack was carried out with what were described as machetes. After the attack, the suspect calmly walked back to his gray Mercedes-Benz, finished filling his gas tank and drove off.
At about 6:15 p.m., the suspect allegedly fatally stabbed a 39-year-old man — Pascual Rioja Lorenzo, of Garden Grove — outside a Subway sandwich shop in the 3800 block of First Street in Santa Ana before going to a 7-Eleven across the street. At the convenience store, he fatally stabbed Robert Parker, a 58-year-old security guard who was not working at the store, Whitney said. After attacking Parker from behind, the suspect used a large knife to cut the victim’s gun from his belt.
Plainclothes Garden Grove officers spotted the suspect’s Mercedes outside the 7-Eleven and called for backup from Santa Ana police. About a minute later, the suspect, who was armed with a knife and a handgun, emerged from the store and was ordered by officers to drop his weapons. The suspect complied and was taken into custody, Whitney said.
Police originally said the suspect and the four slain victims were all Hispanic males. On Thursday, however, a police spreadsheet indicated two of the victims were white — one of the men in the Jentges apartment and the victim inside the 7-Eleven.
Robbery was believed to be the primary motive for the attacks, although police said the suspect did not attempt to rob the victim at the Chevron gas station.
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