VALLEJO, Calif. – The co-worker of a woman found dead in her boyfriend's car after a fatal California police chase said Thursday that she spoke with the victim during the pursuit.
The high-speed chase ended at a Richmond strip mall on Tuesday night, when officers shot and killed murder suspect Efren Valdemoro.
Officers found the body of Cindy Tran, 46, in the passenger seat of Valdemoro's car. Tran had apparently suffered severe head and neck injuries.
Sandra Le, who worked with Tran at a Vallejo nail salon, told The Associated Press that the salon called Tran, who also went by the name Jennie, after the salon owner was upset because police were asking questions about her house mate Ricardo Sales' death.
Le said she could hear Tran pleading. She said she was unaware at the time that Tran was with Valdemoro in the midst of a high speed chase with officers.
"I could hear these sirens, and I could hear Jennie screaming, 'No! Stop! Honey, I love you. Please. No!'" she said.
"Then I started asking her in Vietnamese, 'Where are you at? What city are you in? What street are you on?'
"She was pleading with him to stop. He was yelling at her. I couldn't understand what he was saying, and I kept yelling for someone here to call 911."
Le said as she kept trying to find out where Tran was, the phone went silent.
Meanwhile, authorities on Thursday were still working on creating a timeline in the bizarre, complicated case.
"It's a puzzle that we're trying to put together, but not all pieces are there," Vallejo Police Lt. Abel Tenorio said.
Valdemoro, 38, had been wanted in connection with the death of Sales, who was beaten to death in a Hercules home on Saturday. Police also believe Valdemoro is connected to two bodies that were discovered in Vallejo on Tuesday.
California Highway Patrol Sgt. Trent Cross said investigators are looking into Tran's cell phone records to determine if she was killed by Valdemoro during the chase. He said officers did not observe Valdemoro attacking Tran during the pursuit.
Valdemoro was shot and killed by CHP officers inside a market at the strip mall after refusing to drop two meat cleavers he grabbed from the wall of the butcher counter, Cross said. Officers opened fire after Valdemoro lunged at them with the cleavers, Cross said.
The deadly confrontation occurred as Vallejo investigators discovered two badly decomposed bodies in a home. One of the victims, Segundina Allen, 63, was an acquaintance of Valdemoro who had allowed him to stay in her home off and on for about 10 years, authorities said.
Allen and her longtime friend, Marcaria Smart, 60, were reported missing last weekend and hadn't been seen since Aug. 25. Investigators on the missing-persons case searched Allen's home Tuesday afternoon after noticing flies in the house earlier and found the bodies — one in the backyard and one inside the house, Tenorio said.
They also found chemicals used to make explosives. Allen's husband, Charles Rittenhouse, 72, a chemical engineer, was home when the bodies were discovered. He was arrested on suspicion of explosives possession and being held in jail on $2 million bail.
Among the chemicals found in Rittenhouse's rented home was depleted uranium, Tenorio said Thursday. It is believed that the chemicals are not from his job, Tenorio added.
Rittenhouse is still being questioned in the women's deaths, Tenorio said.
The women's autopsies were being conducted on Thursday and their cause of deaths may not be known for a couple of weeks, Tenorio said.
There is still a possibility of more suspects, Tenorio added.
"We will go where the trail leads us," he said.
Authorities tried to stop Valdemoro's vehicle Tuesday night because he was wanted in the killing of Sales, 73. Police are still looking for Sales's son, Frederick Sales, 35.
"Our hope is that he is still alive and able to shed some light on this," said Tenorio about the younger Sales. "We are concerned for his safety, but we don't know what his involvement is."
Valdemoro was seen fighting with the elder Sales and his son the weekend before, according to Hercules police, who broke up the fight. Valdemoro apparently suspected that Tran was romantically involved with either Ricardo Sales or his son.
Police said the Saleses had been renting rooms in Tran's home.
Le said Thursday that she and others had their doubts about Valdemoro but respected Tran's decision to be with him.
"She loved him, so we loved him, too," Le said. "But there was always something about him."
She added that the salon staffers are reaching out to Tran's four sons, who range in age from 14 to 21.
"They're holding up as best as they can," she said, as passers-by gave her hugs and expressed their condolences. "It's so surreal for everybody."
Thanawala reported from San Francisco.