A valleywide manhunt lasting about 55 hours came to a sudden end Friday morning with the arrest of the man authorities say shot and killed a 33-year-old Newman Police Department corporal.
Gustavo Perez Arriaga, 32, was arrested in the small town of Lamont, just east of Bakersfield and about 200 miles from where he’s suspected of killing Cpl. Ronil Singh after a traffic stop early Wednesday morning in east Newman.
Arriaga was on his way to Mexico, said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson at a noon news conference Friday in Modesto as several of Singh’s grieving family members, along with other county employees and media from throughout California listened to details of the arrest.
Friday night, as hundreds were paying their respects to Singh during a vigil in Newman, more details emerged, including the arrests of Arriaga’s girlfriend and brother Friday afternoon, the recovery of the possible murder weapon and information on what led to the traffic stop.
Sgt. Tom Letras, spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said Ana Leyde Cervantes, 30, of Newman, was arrested Friday afternoon in Turlock. Meanwhile, in Livermore, Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, of Chowchilla, was taken into custody.
Like the five others arrested in the last 48 hours — three in Lamont, one in Hanford and the other in Modesto — the two were expected to be charged with accessory after the fact, or aiding and abetting.
Letras also said what investigators believe to be the suspect’s handgun used in the shooting was found in the last 36 hours, but could not give details as to where and exactly when it was recovered.
“We were never more than a step behind this guy,” said Christianson, who credited the teamwork of agencies throughout the valley in capturing Arriaga.
The suspect was brought back to the Stanislaus County Jail on Friday afternoon — wearing Singh’s handcuffs — hours after a Kern County Sheriff SWAT team had surrounded the house in Lamont. Arriaga, wearing a checkered shirt, jeans and a jacket, came out with his hands in the air, said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood at a later news conference down south.
He said there were others in the house, including children. Three adults there were arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting: Bernabe Madrigal Castaneda, 59, Ermasmo Villegas, 36, and Maria Luisa Moreno, 57, all from Bakersfield.
Also arrested for aiding and abetting on Thursday were another of the suspect’s brothers, Adrian Virgen, 25, and a co-worker, Erik Razo Quiroz, 35. Virgen was arrested in Hanford and Quiroz in Modesto.
“We had them in custody and asked for their cooperation and they lied to us,” Christianson said of Virgen and Quiroz.
Arriaga crossed the border into Arizona illegally several years ago and has worked as a farm laborer in the Stanislaus County area, Christianson said. He has two prior driving-under-the-influence arrests and ties to the Sureño Street Gang.
“If he wasn’t here then he wouldn’t have been driving drunk and it wouldn’t have been reported to officer Singh and the … enforcement stop potentially never would have occurred,” Christianson said Friday.
Arriaga was pulled over by Singh, 33, on suspicion of DUI at about 12:57 a.m. Three minutes later, there was a call of shots fired. Arriaga, police say, fled the scene in a pickup. Singh was found on the ground, and taken to a nearby hospital, where he died.
Letras said Friday night the traffic stop was a result of a resident flagging down Singh after the resident saw what appeared to be a drunk Arriaga get into his vehicle. Singh, who was driving, eventually pulled over Arriaga, Letras said. The resident did not see the traffic stop, but did hear gunshots minutes later.
“For a suspect to take an officer’s life over a driving under the influence, doesn’t make any logical sense to me, nor anyone else,” Youngblood said. “But no traffic stop and no contact in today’s world is run of the mill.”
During the press conference in Modesto on Friday, Singh’s younger brother, Reggie, spoke through his tears to thank law enforcement for working day and night to capture Arriaga. He and other family members, as well as other Stanislaus County law enforcement officials, stood behind Christianson as he took questions from reporters.
Reggie Singh cried at the mention of his brother and this brother’s alleged killer and eventually he and the other family members stepped out of view of the cameras.
Youngblood told reporters Christianson contacted him at 4 p.m. Thursday to say investigators developed information that Arriaga was headed south and had information he might be in the Bakersfield area.
Initially, authorities believed Arriaga was in Stanislaus County. About 14 hours after the shooting, authorities recovered what they believed was the suspect’s Dodge Ram truck on River Road, about 4.5 miles from site of the shooting at the intersection of Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue.
The vehicle was registered to Arriaga’s brother, Conrado, according to a Bee records search.
But as the hours wore on, searches by state and federal law enforcement agencies began heading south, including one in El Nido, about 12 miles south of Merced, late Thursday afternoon.
In addition to the home in Lamont, Kern County Sheriff’s deputies set up surveillance at locations in Buttonwillow and Hanford in Kings County. They got a search warrant for the home in Lamont and SWAT moved in.
Singh lived in the northeast Modesto neighborhood of Village I with his wife, Anamika, and their 5-month-old son. The family was pictured on Christmas with Singh’s narcotics K9 dog, Sam.
Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson, during an emotional news conference Thursday, said Singh immigrated to the United States from Fiji, determined to be a police officer.
He was popular with residents of the town of 11,000 in south Stanislaus County.
“You have to understand, this was not supposed to happen here,” the chief, in tears, told a room full of media and community members.
At one point, he held up the photograph of Singh with his narcotics K9, Sam. “I have been to too many of these funerals and I never thought, ever, that I would have to do this. I do not want to be here today.”
A public service is expected to be held next week in Modesto. Details on that will be forthcoming. Arriaga’s arraignment in Stanislaus Superior Court is expected to occur Wednesday, Letras said.
In a Facebook post Friday afternoon the Sheriff’s Department reminded anyone interested in donating to Singh’s family to do so only to the The Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association, which has established an account. Officials said accounts set up on GoFundMe by anyone else could be fraudulent and anyone who set one up has been asked by the Sheriff’s Department to remove it.