LAS VEGAS -- California Highway Patrol Officer Jesus Manuel Magdaleno Jr. and his brother-in-law, Felix Brandon Cruz III, came to the Strip last weekend to celebrate Magdaleno’s September wedding with a traditional bachelor party.
But the visit took a tragic turn when a carjacker fled with their pickup truck as the pair were loading luggage outside the Flamingo Hotel. They died after being thrown from the truck when it struck another vehicle.
Now, the two men are heading home to Visalia.
Las Vegas Metropolitan police will deliver their bodies to family members at the California-Nevada state line Wednesday. Their hearses will make the five-hour drive to Visalia with CHP cruisers providing escort, each one peeling off as they reach the limits of their jurisdictions.
“We wanted to do something bigger, but this will be low-key,” Scott Harris, a CHP spokesman in Visalia told the Los Angeles Times. “The family will meet Las Vegas police at the state line and return with the men.”
Meanwhile, a judge has set a preliminary hearing for Sept. 4 for the Tustin man charged in the carjacking. James Robert Montgomery faces numerous charges including murder. Police say he remains hospitalized following the Sunday morning crash.
Magdaleno died at the scene, and Cruz died on Tuesday.
Authorities say the men held on as Montgomery drove off with their truck. The pair had been loading Magdaleno's pickup with luggage at checkout time when Montgomery jumped into the vehicle and drove away from the valet area at the Flamingo hotel-casino.
Police said witness accounts and a security video that has not yet been made public shows Magdaleno running after the pickup, shouting that he was a CHP officer and jumping into the cargo bed with Cruz.
The pickup sped off, later colliding with an SUV and smashing into a traffic signal pole in front of the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino.
Montgomery told police he recalled wandering the Flamingo and then the crash, but couldn't remember anything in between.
But the story may be getting more complicated.
Montgomery’s attorney, Michael Becker of Las Vegas, told the Associated Press, "This case, I think there's more to it than meets the surface." But he refused to say more until he reviews all the evidence against his client.
Becker said Montgomery works at a Whole Foods supermarket in Tustin, Calif., and was a "lawful person" who was injured and shaken by the incident. The attorney said his client was in Las Vegas with his girlfriend and her children, and had been staying at another hotel on the Strip.
The CHP's Harris, however, said he knew of no mitigating circumstances to the crime.
“We’re pretty much focused on what we have to do when Jesse gets back home,” he told The Times. “His girlfriend is holding up. We’re all pretty much focused on getting done what needs to be done.”