Probe continues into deadly Garden Grove, Santa Ana robbery spree

A 33-year-old Garden Grove man was in custody on Thursday for allegedly carrying out a spree of robberies and stabbings in two Orange County cities that left four people dead and two others seriously wounded, including a man who nearly had his nose severed.


Garden Grove police Chief Tom DaRe says the suspect in Wednesday night's crime spree that left four people dead is a documented gang member who should have been in prison for prior convictions but was made eligible for release under the AB109 inmate-realignment legislation.

"California law enforcement agencies have been crippled by AB109, and offenders are not being held accountable for their crimes," he says. "Our community becomes vulnerable when these criminals are released back into our society."

Meanwhile, police were working to figure out what sparked the roughly 2 1/2-hour rolling melee. Garden Grove police identified the suspect as Zachary Castaneda. Orange County jail records show Castaneda, described as a "laborer," is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

The first stabbings were reported just after 5 p.m. Wednesday at an apartment complex in the 12100 block of Jentges Avenue in Garden Grove, according to Garden Grove Police Department Lt. Carl Whitney.

Two male victims were found, one on the balcony of an apartment and the other inside. 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 too was pronounced dead, Whitney said.

"We believe our two victims in the apartment somehow confronted the suspect and an altercation occurred," Whitney said. "We've learned, so far, that our suspect does reside here in the same apartment complex."

Authorities said the suspect's crime spree actually began about an hour earlier. Police received a report about 4:10 p.m. Wednesday of a burglary at the same apartment complex on Jentges. A short time later, police responded to a reported armed robbery at a bakery in the 13000 block of Chapman Avenue.

Whitney said. No one was injured in the bakery robbery, which was reported about 4:25 p.m. and involved a male suspect possibly armed with a knife and a handgun, Whitney said.

While police were investigating the bakery crime, they responded back to the apartment complex and found the two fatally stabbed victims.

Shortly after 5:30 p.m., an armed robbery was reported at a check-cashing business in the 12800 block of Harbor Boulevard, allegedly by the same suspect, who was reported to have been armed with a knife, according to Whitney. No one was injured in that crime, he said.

About 20 minutes after that, a female victim believed to be in her 50s, was stabbed multiple times during a robbery at an insurance business in the area of Harbor and Garden Grove boulevards. She was conscious and breathing when taken to a hospital, Whitney said. She is believed to be in criticalcondition.

"This female employee was very brave," Whitney said. "This guy was armed with knives. She fought as best she could against this armed suspect and sustained multiple stab wounds."

Minutes later, at 6:09 p.m., a male victim 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 in what appeared to be a random attack that did not involve an attempted robbery. He is expected to survive, according to Whitney, who said witness descriptions and cell phone photos matched the suspect and his gray Mercedes-Benz.

Whitney praised all those who helped the gas station victim and assisted officers in identifying the suspect.

"A lot of citizens came forward and rendered aid to the guy with his nose nearly that was nearly severed off," Whitney said. "They were willing to come forward and help the police department, give us information that was crucial in getting this guy identified and help this guy who was stabbed and sustained serious injuries. The public really stepped up to help this guy."

 At about 6:15 p.m., the suspect allegedly fatally stabbed a person inside a Subway sandwich shop in the 3800 block of First Street in Santa Ana before going to a 7-Eleven across the street, where he allegedly stabbed a security guard, fatally wounding him, then cut the guard's gun and holster fromhis belt and took the firearm, Whitney said.

Plainclothes Garden Grove officers spotted the suspect's Mercedes outside the 7-Eleven and called for back-up from Santa Ana police before the suspect, who was armed with a knife and a handgun, emerged from the store about a minute later and was taken into custody by the plainclothes officers, Whitney said. The weapons were recovered, he added.

"We have video that shows him attacking these people and conducting these murders," Whitney said. "So, that's going to be great evidence for us for prosecution."

Police said the suspect and the four slain victims are all Hispanic males, saying robbery appeared to be the primary motive for the attacks --except for the assault of the man at the Chevron gas station, who was not robbed.

"These were random acts of violence -- our suspect was not involved with any of the victims," said Whitney, who said it appeared that the man's only motives were robbery and "pure hate."

Police said the stabbings were unrelated to the stabbing death of a 62-year-old woman Tuesday night in a Garden Grove condominium she shared with her 28-year-old son, who is now being sought by police as a person of interest, officials said.