Broken headlight leads to arrest of L.A. gang member wanted for 1989 murder

A mugshot of Byron Contreras.

A mugshot of Byron Contreras.  (Los Angeles Police Department)

A broken headlight was all it took to bring one of California’s most wanted fugitives into custody after 25 years on the lam.

California Highway Patrol pulled over Byron Contreras on Thursday in the small inland town of Salinas, when they noticed his headlight wasn’t functioning properly. Moments later he was arrested him on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs. 

At the time police did not know that the 42-year-man they were hauling into custody was wanted for a 1989 gang slaying in Hollywood.

For the last 25 years, Contreras had assumed multiple identities and had been issued various tickets under those names. At the time of arrest, he told police his name was Agustin Alejo and that he lived in Castroville, California.

But when police ran his fingerprints back at the Monterey County jail, they discovered his true identity and that there was an arrest warrant out for him for the decades-old murder.

"This stop highlights the dangers of routine traffic stops. You never know what or who you are going to encounter," CHP Officer Oscar Loza told the Los Angeles Times.

On Oct. 1, 1989, Contreras, then 16, and four other members of the Magician's Club street gang encountered two rival gang members riding bikes. From a car, Contreras and his cohorts allegedly flashed gang signs and fired shots — putting one rival gangster on the ground, the Salinas Californian reported.

Contreras purportedly then walked up to the victim and fired additional shots, before firing at the other fleeing gang member. He will be extradited to Los Angeles County to face murder charges, CHP officials said.

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