Cruiser Left Murder Scene, Witness Says : Woman at Peyer’s Hearing Claims She Saw Police Car Leave Area of Slaying

Times Staff Writer

A woman testified Tuesday that she saw a police car pull out from the isolated area where San Diego State University student Cara Knott was killed.

Ann Parascand, 21, testified that she and her boyfriend were sitting in a broken-down limousine on the Mercy Road off-ramp of Interstate 15 when she saw the police car sometime between 9:30 and 10 p.m., about the time police say Knott was slain. She could not identify the vehicle as a California Highway Patrol car but said she saw it drive away fast.

Parascand testified during the second day of a preliminary hearing before Municipal Judge Frederic Link for CHP Officer Craig Peyer, who is accused of killing Knott.

Earlier Tuesday, a colleague of Peyer said that he once drove her to the isolated bridge where Knott was killed and said it was a good place “to dump and get rid of a body.”


CHP Officer Linda Alley said that she was Peyer’s partner for about three days in 1986, before Knott was killed. Alley, a seven-year CHP veteran who is now assigned to Oceanside, said that Peyer was showing her part of the San Diego area patroled by the CHP when he drove to the bridge near the Mercy Road off-ramp below Interstate 15.

“There was a comment made by (Peyer) in an off-hand way about how dark and desolate it was,” said Alley. “ ‘If you ever wanted to dump and get rid of a body, this is the place to do it,’ he said.”

Peyer, 37, was arrested Jan. 15 and charged with the murder of Knott. Knott, a 20-year-old honor student, was strangled Dec. 27 between 9 and 10 p.m., police said. Investigators said that she was strangled on the old U.S. 395 bridge near Interstate 15 and Mercy Road before her body was thrown off the bridge, 75 feet down into a dry creek bed. Her body was found the next morning about 8:30 a.m.

After Knott’s slaying, Alley said, she and other CHP officers kidded Peyer about the young woman being killed on his beat during his shift. Alley said that she also reminded Peyer about the comment he made about the Mercy Road off-ramp area being a good place to get rid of a body.

“I said to (Peyer), ‘Craig, remember when I worked with you the first few days in San Diego? Remember when you told me if I ever wanted to get rid of a body that would be the place to do it?’ . . . . He looked a little embarrassed, a little taken aback,” Alley said.

Some of the kidding that Peyer endured included facetious comments about Knott’s death, said Alley. She said that some officers asked him: “What happened, Craig? Did you choke her off for not signing a ticket?”

Under questioning by Robert Grimes, who is Peyer’s attorney, Alley acknowledged that Peyer also showed her the Mercy Road off-ramp area because its isolated location is an ideal area to strip cars and it has to be checked regularly for cars that may have gone off the freeway above.

Parascand testified that her boyfriend had rented a limousine to celebrate her birthday on Dec. 27, but that the car broke down and the driver parked it on the Mercy Road off-ramp while he went for help.

While waiting for the driver to return, Parascand said, she saw the police car.

Another witness testified that he saw Knott’s white Volkswagen parked near the bridge on the night she was killed. David Gonzalez said that he had driven to the isolated area with a girl about 9:50 p.m. and saw the car parked on the road. Gonzalez said that the car was empty and was still there when they left about 45 minutes later.

Ex-Brother-In-Law Testifies

Officer Craig Muehleisen, who is Peyer’s former brother-in-law, testified that Peyer appeared anxious a few days after the incident and said that he wanted to get away from the San Diego area. Peyer’s second marriage was to Muehleisen’s sister, Karen. Muehleisen, an eight-year CHP veteran, said that he has known Peyer since 1980. According to Muehleisen, five days after Knott’s killing, Peyer told him that he had to leave the area.

“On Jan. 1 at the conclusion of our shift . . . I asked, ‘How’s it going?’ He said, ‘I’ve got to get out of the area,’ ” Muehleisen said.

He said that he was surprised by Peyer’s comment and added that he had noticed a change in Peyer’s demeanor. Specifically, Muehleisen said that Peyer worked overtime at every opportunity but that he told Muehleisen on Dec. 31 that he did not want to work any more overtime.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Joseph van Orshoven on Tuesday called eight young women who testified that they had been stopped last year by Peyer on the same off-ramp where Knott was killed. All of the women said they were stopped at night, most of them for having faulty headlights or taillights. Each woman said that Peyer stopped her on Interstate 15 but ordered her to drive to the Mercy Road off-ramp and down to an unlit area below the freeway.

Denise Barr, of Escondido, said that Peyer talked to her for 45 minutes after giving her a ticket for a faulty headlight and taillight.

“He asked me about my boyfriend, why he let me out at that time of the night,” Barr said. “He told me that he had a girlfriend that lives in the area.”

Peyer and his third wife, Karen, live in Poway.

Questioning Protested

After Barr testified, Grimes protested that Van Orshoven was attempting to elicit “inflammatory” testimony from the series of witnesses waiting outside the courtroom. Grimes asked Link to block the women’s testimony.

“The object of this line of questioning is an attempt by the prosecution to elicit from these women (information) about prior stops by Officer Peyer,” said Grimes. “It’s our position that this type of evidence . . . is of an inflammatory nature and not relevant to the events of Dec. 27, 1986.”

Grimes argued that there is no evidence that Peyer stopped Knott under circumstances similar to those that led to the stops of Barr and the other women. Grimes referred to the women as “a parade of witnesses leading to speculation of what could’ve happened.”

Van Orshoven countered that the prosecution was attempting to show an “unusual course and pattern of conduct . . . and manner in which (prosecutors) contend the offense occurred.”

“All (of the women) were stopped for minor violations at a late hour,” said Van Orshoven. “They were taken to a dark and menacing place off of the highway, and had their personal lives discussed.”

Link recessed the hearing for about 15 minutes while he studied Grimes’ objection. When he returned, Link allowed Van Orshoven to continue questioning the young women.

Incidents Called Similar

“The prosecution has several young ladies who are going to testify to a certain pattern of conduct by Officer Peyer,” Link said. “If we were dealing with one situation, it might make a difference . . . but the pattern of (Peyer’s) conduct shows a distinctive mark of similarity.”

Some of the women said that Peyer ordered them inside his patrol car while he wrote them a ticket, but all said that he never touched them or asked them for a date. None of the women said that she felt threatened by Peyer, and some said that he impressed them with his concern for their safety.

Michelle Darmain, 20, of Poway, said that she “felt safe” with Peyer, and Leslie Kurtz, 24, of San Diego, said that Peyer was “very nice” and put her “at ease.” Eva Shinnerl, who was 16 when Peyer stopped her at the dark off-ramp, said that Peyer put her at ease and that she had no difficulty “telling him about my day, as if I knew him personally.”

Sarah Ann Lundberg, 24, of Poway, said Peyer told her that he ordered drivers to park on the Mercy Road off-ramp out of concern for his and the drivers’ safety.

“I asked him why he pulled me down there, where it’s pitch black. He said that he didn’t want to endanger himself by drivers who had been drinking,” Lundberg said.

Scratch Testimony Conflicts

On Tuesday, several CHP officers testified that they saw scratches and blood on Peyer’s face at the end of his shift on Dec. 27, the night that Knott was killed. The issue of the scratches has produced conflicting testimony from the witnesses called by Van Orshoven.

Several witnesses, including some CHP officers, testified Monday that they saw the scratches, but four young men who were stopped by Peyer on Dec. 27 on two separate occasions said they had not noticed the marks on his face. One man, who was a passenger in a car stopped by Peyer on California 163, said he did not notice the scratches because he never saw the officer’s face. Peyer stopped the car about 9:40 p.m., and the driver said that he saw Peyer’s face in the dark but did not notice any scratches.

The scratches have been variously described by witnesses as running vertically alongside Peyer’s nose, down his cheek at an angle and along the scalp line. On Tuesday, Peyer’s CHP supervisor testified that the scratches ran vertically and horizontally.

CHP Sgt. Gary Symonds testified Monday that the scratches he saw on Peyer’s face were consistent with marks made by a chain-link fence. Peyer had told him he suffered the facial scratches when he fell against a chain-link fence by the gas pumps at the CHP office while refueling his patrol car.

However, Symonds also referred to the scratches as “red welts” that ran horizontally above the eyebrows and across the bridge of his nose and under Peyer’s eyes, while the vertical marks ran along both sides of Peyer’s nose.

Symonds and other CHP officers who testified Tuesday described Peyer as being “distraught, disheveled, nervous” and “angry” at the end of his shift on Dec. 27.

An armored car guard testified that, on the day Knott’s body was found, Peyer stopped to render assistance when the armored truck he was riding in broke down on Interstate 15. Guard Barry Drummond said that Peyer spent about 30 minutes talking to the armored truck crew, which included Curt Boyles, a cousin of Knott.

Knott’s killing was discussed, but Peyer said that he had not heard about it, Drummond testified.

“Peyer said that he was familiar with the (Mercy Road off-ramp) area and uses the ramp to catch speeders, but said that he hadn’t used the off-ramp the night before,” Drummond said.

When Boyles told Peyer that he was Knott’s cousin, Peyer “seemed a little bit nervous and started to stutter and walked away,” Drummond said.