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Man killed under Santa Monica Pier was sleeping after fishing trip, not homeless, family says

Man killed under Santa Monica Pier was sleeping after fishing trip, not homeless, family says
A 39-year-old San Gabriel man was found beaten to death under the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday. Police initially described him as homeless, but the victim's family says he was sleeping outside after a fishing trip when he was killed. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A San Gabriel man found beaten to death under the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday morning was not homeless but had chosen to sleep there after an overnight fishing trip, his family said.

The victim, identified Friday as 39-year-old Steven Ray Cruze Jr., was initially described as homeless by the Santa Monica Police Department, setting off concerns his death was linked to a brutal series of attacks that left two homeless men dead and a third critically injured in downtown Los Angeles earlier in the week.

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The victim’s relatives, however, said Friday that Cruze lived with his parents in San Gabriel. He enjoyed fishing at night in Santa Monica and sometimes slept outside on a hammock, said his aunt, Jennifer Smith.

Investigators said they are still trying to determine if his death is linked to the killings in Los Angeles. All four victims were attacked while they slept outside, and all suffered blunt-force injuries.

Santa Monica Police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said his department is sharing information with the LAPD. Rodriguez said he could not confirm that Cruze was not homeless, but responding officers believed he had been sleeping under the pier, roughly 50 feet from the water.

Capt. Billy Hayes, who heads the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, said “both agencies are working closely, as their independent investigations continue, to determine if they are related.”

“At this point, we have nothing that would clearly link these cases,” he added.

Cruze’s body was found by a beach maintenance worker about 6:40 a.m. on Thursday, police said. He had suffered severe head injuries, which Rodriguez said were “consistent with being hit violently with some sort of blunt-type object.”

Police do not know what type of weapon was used or if Cruze was robbed. There were no witnesses to the attack, and police are not sure what time it occurred, Rodriguez said.

In separate incidents, three homeless men sleeping in downtown’s Financial District were attacked between 4 and 5 a.m. by someone armed with a baseball bat. The attacker, who the LAPD also believes is homeless, smashed each man across the head and shoulders before rummaging through their pockets.

Two of those men have since died of their injuries, though their identities have not been released pending notification of their families, said a coroner’s office spokeswoman.

The fist victim, 59, was attacked near Flower and 5th streets and died Tuesday morning, authorities said. The second, who was 20, was assaulted near Flower Street and Wilshire Boulevard and died Thursday. A third victim remains in critical condition at an area hospital, police said.

Cruze’s aunt, Jennifer Smith, said in a brief interview that her nephew often slept outside after late-night fishing trips in the Santa Monica area.

“He just goes down there and fishes. He has a hammock that he brings with him,” she said. “He’s a father. He lives with his parents.”

Smith said her nephew would sometimes go on such trips for several days at a time. Fishing was Cruze’s lifelong hobby, his aunt said. In addition to other jobs, he also worked on fishing charter boats that departed from Santa Monica each day, she said.

In the Los Angeles attacks, investigators said they believed the victims were targeted because they were isolated, not necessarily because they were homeless. Hayes said he believed robbery was the motive.

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Police described the assailant in the downtown killings as a white or Latino man in his 30s or 40s, of medium height and build, with black hair. He was last seen wearing a blue hat, gray sweatshirt, black shorts and bright white tennis shoes. Hayes said the suspect walked with a “distinctive gait” and could be bowlegged.

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