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Crime craze

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It was the week from Hell. Paradise lost in a hail of bullets that resulted in the deaths of four people following a senseless shooting, a high-speed chase involving kidnapping, and a SWAT standoff (see John Peabody’s story below). It could have been worse, but not much.

 It all started during the lunch hour Wednesday March 15 at Denny’s restaurant right off Highway 101 in Pismo Beach. A man eventually identified at Lawrence Edward Woods, a local handyman with no permanent address, casually walked into the eatery a little past noon, and opened fire with two handguns. Diners who could scattered, but Frank Valesquez, 64, and Harold Hatley, 73, both from Grover Beach, would die from gunshot wounds. Woods then turned one of his guns on himself. In a matter of moments, three people were dead, two were injured, and a community was reeling. How could this happen on the Central Coast, where pursuit of peace and serenity are the ultimate prize?

 Investigators may never find out. Woods, police would discover, was not a well man, often displaying what appeared to be paranoiac behavior that made neighbors wary. Whatever the reason for his rage, it may be of little consolation to the family and friends of Denny’s regulars  Valesquez, who was shot in the leg and bled to death, and Hatley, a Korean War vet whose heroic attempts to subdue the gunman tragically ended in his death.

 Two days later, on Friday March 17, not far from Denny’s, Pismo police became involved in the pursuit of two men who would lead officers on a 100-mile high-speed chase which began in north SLO County and ended just north of Goleta in Santa Barbara County. 30-year-old Nicandro Sanchez, and 41-year-old Jose Cabrera, both from the San Jose area, ignored a CHP request to pull over during a routine traffic stop in Templeton, sped away in a white Toyota mini-van at speeds more than 100 miles-per-hour south on Highway 101, and got as far as the Five Cities Drive exit in Pismo when spike strips flattened their tires and caused them to flee on foot. Sanchez was arrested near the scene, but Cabrera, armed with a pistol, car-jacked a Jeep Cherokee with three passengers in it, and took off southbound, “not to be taken,� according to his captives.

 When the Jeep ran out of gas in Gaviota, Cabrera car-jacked another vehicle, this time a small moving van, and continued south at high speeds. His attempt to outrun the law came to an abrupt end a few miles down the highway after he shot at some motorists on the shoulder of the freeway offering help to a disabled driver. The motorists in the sights of Cabrera’s revolver were five members of a narcotics task force based in SLO County. One of them, Arroyo Grande police officer Albert Beattie, fired a fatal shot back, according to preliminary reports. Cabrera, a parolee wanted on several warrants including assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, stayed true to his word.

 

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