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Saga of Southern Calif. family ends with children safe, mother's body ID'd, father in custody

The body found in the trunk of the car of the Perez family of Montebello, California, on Wednesday, has been identified as Erica Perez, 39, the wife of Daniel Perez and mother of four boys ranging in age from 6 to 11.   

The cause of death hasn't been determined by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office yet.  

Daniel Perez, 43, was arrested Thursday before 10 a.m. in the morning Pacific time, during a standoff on a freeway bridge, days after he had vanished with Erica and their four sons.

Perez is considered a person of interest in the death of his wife and could also face child endangerment charges, authorities said Thursday.

The elementary school custodian and his wife had a troubled and violent marriage and both had criminal histories, Montebello police said.

The couple and their four sons, ages 6, 8, 9 and 11, disappeared last Friday from their home 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

They didn't answer phone calls and were off the map until Wednesday, when her body was found in the trunk of the family's Honda Accord about a half-mile from home, police confirmed.

On Thursday, the California Highway Patrol issued an Amber Alert stating that the children had been taken by their father. Montebello police activated an anti-theft tracker in the family's other car, a Toyota Camry, which alerted authorities to its location in San Diego County and triggered a pursuit shortly after 8 a.m.

The Camry stopped on a freeway ramp after a pursuit that lasted about 10 minutes and reached speeds of 85 mph, CHP Officer Kevin Pearlstein said.

A police negotiator spoke by phone with Perez, who released two boys. Police sensed a sudden change in demeanor and sent in armored vehicles from both directions to block the car, along with about 25 San Diego County sheriff's deputies.

"Something definitely changed," Pearlstein said. "We decided we had to take a proactive approach instead of letting it play out."

With television helicopters circling above, Perez got out of the passenger door and walked backward to the railing of the 150-foot-high bridge with one boy at his side. Perez held a phone to his ear while the other boy followed a few steps behind. Police shot him with a beanbag round, Perez threw an arm and a leg over the railing, and officers rushed in to take him into custody.

The boys later were returned to Montebello. They were informed that their mother was dead and child welfare officials were being consulted to determine whether they will be sent into protective custody or stay with relatives, Montebello police Capt. Luis Lopez said.

The captain also said police had been called to the family home in the past because of disturbances.

Erica Perez was convicted in March 2011 of misdemeanor corporal injury to a spouse and sentenced to 60 days in jail, authorities said.

The woman had stabbed her husband, Daniel Perez's cousin, Mark Castillo of La Puente, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Daniel Perez had two trespassing convictions in 1996, and in 1999 he was charged with passing a check with insufficient funds but the case was dismissed, the newspaper reported, citing court records.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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