Crime & Courts

Montebello father captured, children safe in televised freeway drama

After mother's body is found in a car trunk, four missing Montebello boys are safe and their father in custody

The first glimpse of Daniel Perez in nearly a week was when he stepped out of a car with dark-tinted windows on a San Diego County freeway Thursday morning, carrying his cell phone and one of his four boys. Another son stood by his side. Sharpshooters were zeroed in on Perez.

The 43-year-old Montebello father was suspected of kidnapping his four children, ages 6 to 11, and considered a person of interest in the death of his wife — the boys' mother. A day before, Montebello police had found the body of Erica Perez in the trunk of the family's car.

Now Perez was cornered.

As a helicopter news camera captured the moment, one of his other boys stepped out of the car and closed the passenger-side door of the black Honda Accord before almost casually loping toward waiting California Highway Patrol officers. Then the fourth boy hurried out of the car and sprinted with quick, short steps toward the officers.

The televised drama occurred on an elevated transition road between the 52 and 67 freeways in Santee. Perez emerged from the car about 9:30 a.m., put down the boy in his arms and was tackled by police, moments after making quick movements as though he might jump over the side of the road.

He was taken into custody on suspicion of child endangerment and child abduction

"We were holding on to our seats like, 'Oh my God, these are our neighbors and now they're at gunpoint,'" said Jacinto Talamante, the Perezes' neighbor in Montebello. "Thank God the kids are safe."

The family of six — Daniel Perez, 43; Erica Perez, 39; and their four sons — was last seen Friday but reported missing only Wednesday. After discovering the body, the California Highway Patrol issued a statewide Amber Alert for Daniel Perez and the children.

Police learned he was driving a newer-model Toyota Camry and turned on its LoJack device, which led them Thursday morning to an industrial park in El Cajon.

When police tried to stop Perez's car, he sped off, said El Cajon police Lt. Mike Moulton. The chase lasted about 10 minutes and reached speeds up to 85 mph.

"All things put together — that we found the car, got the LoJack hit, and that it ended peacefully … it's fortunate," Moulton said.

The children were not injured. Authorities said they will be released to the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.

"It's been a pretty traumatic few days for the kids," Montebello police Capt. Luis Lopez said.

The family's neighbors in Montebello are at a loss to explain or understand what happened. Police said the family had a history of domestic violence, but they don't know what would have prompted the boys' kidnapping or the death of Erica Perez.

"This is a nice neighborhood," Talamante said. "You have vandals here and there, but overall it's an OK neighborhood where nothing like that happens. But then again, you never know who your neighbor is."

joseph.serna@latimes.com
Twitter: @JosephSerna

brittny.mejia@latimes.com
Twitter: @brittny_mejia

Staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

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