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Suspect held in baseball bat killings of homeless men in downtown Los Angeles

Suspect held in baseball bat killings of homeless men in downtown Los Angeles
Law enforcement officials told The Times that surveillance images were key in the investigation. (LAPD)

A man suspected of pummeling homeless men with a baseball bat in downtown Los Angeles last week, leaving two dead and a third critically injured, was captured by police in Santa Monica after allegedly committing a similar attack Monday morning, authorities said.

Ramon Escobar, 47, was arrested about 7:30 a.m. in connection with an attack that left a homeless man unconscious in the 1500 block of 7th Street, authorities said. Roughly 30 minutes after the attack, officers spotted a suspect, later identified as Escobar, in the 600 block of Broadway and arrested him without incident, Santa Monica Police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said.

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In a news release, the Los Angeles Police Department said Escobar had been booked on two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with a series of brutal attacks on homeless men who were sleeping in downtown’s Financial District earlier this month.

A news conference to discuss Escobar’s arrest has been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, according to the LAPD.

The victim in the Monday morning attack in Santa Monica appeared to be homeless and was either sitting or leaning against a wall when he was struck, Rodriguez said. It was not clear whether the victim was asleep at the time, or if a robbery took place. No weapon was recovered, and it was not clear if a baseball bat was used.

The victim, whose identity was not released, remained unconscious and in critical condition at a hospital Monday afternoon, Rodriguez said.

Escobar’s arrest came on the heels of attacks in downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica that left three dead and a fourth person critically injured. In each of the prior attacks, the victim suffered blunt force trauma to his head while sleeping outside, police have said.

Around 4 a.m. on Sept. 16, a man smashed a baseball bat across the head and shoulders of a homeless man sleeping near 5th and Flower streets, the LAPD has said. The 59-year-old victim died of his injuries two days later, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Less than an hour later, the same person attacked two other homeless men who were sleeping on Flower Street near Wilshire Boulevard, police said. One victim, a 20-year-old man, also died of his injuries Thursday. The third victim was hospitalized in critical condition.

The victims’ identities have not been released, pending notification of their families.

Santa Monica police are also exploring the possibility that Escobar was linked to two beachside attacks on homeless men earlier this month and the slaying of a man who was sleeping under the Santa Monica Pier last week, according to Rodriguez.

On Thursday, beach maintenance workers found the body of Steven Ray Cruze Jr. around 6:40 a.m. The 39-year-old San Gabriel resident had suffered massive head trauma after being attacked while he slept roughly 50 feet from the water, authorities have said. Cruze’s family told The Times he often slept on the beach after overnight fishing trips, and worked on fishing cruises in the beach area.

It was not clear whether a baseball bat was used in Cruze’s death.

Rodriguez said police have not ruled out Escobar as a suspect in the slaying or in attacks on two homeless men who suffered blunt force trauma to the head in separate attacks near the beach earlier in the month. One of those men remains hospitalized in critical condition, Rodriguez said.

Last week, the LAPD said it believed the suspect in the downtown attacks was also homeless and trying to rob isolated targets. He could be seen rummaging through the victims’ pockets on surveillance footage recovered from the area, police said.

Two of the downtown assaults were caught on video, and two law enforcement officials told The Times that the surveillance images were key in linking Escobar to the slayings. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the case candidly.

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A motive remains unclear, and Escobar refused to talk to investigators on Monday, one official said. Last week, the LAPD suggested robbery may have been the motive in the downtown killings.

“General” Jeff Page, a skid row community activist, said some community members had grown concerned that the attacks were racially motivated, since the victims in the downtown beatings were all identified by police as black men. Page said he was relieved to hear the suspect had been captured, but pressed for answers about a motive behind the killings.

“We’re glad that he’s apprehended, so that lightens the focus and collective concern in terms of watching out for these random people with potential weapons,” he said. “At the same time, we’re looking forward to some type of post-arrest interview. Were these hate crimes? Were these anti-homelessness?”

7:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about attacks earlier this month on Santa Monica’s homeless community.

7:05 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the assaults and comments from a skid row community activist.

This article originally published at 4:50 p.m.

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