Police have arrested a 21-year-old Colorado man on suspicion of murder in the stabbing death of a Hermosa Beach florist, who had become a popular figure in the year and a half since he opened shop in the small beach town.
John Ortega of Colorado Springs was being held without bail at the Hermosa Beach Jail on suspicion of murder in the death of Steve Gallardo, 40, owner of Hermosa Beach Florist. Ortega was arrested Thursday evening by Hermosa Beach police, who also arrested a man who was allegedly driving Gallardo’s stolen Mercedes-Benz, Sgt. John Koebsell said.
Johnny Toro, 25, of Washington state was being held on $1,000 bail on suspicion of receiving stolen property.
Found in Apartment
Gallardo was found dead Thursday evening inside his apartment on Pier Avenue, just a block from his business, investigators said. Gallardo’s sister called friends Thursday afternoon and asked them to check on her brother, after the normally conscientious businessman missed work and failed to call relatives for two days, said Gallardo’s bookkeeper, Donna Willoughby-Brown.
The bookkeeper said she went to Gallardo’s apartment about 5 p.m. Thursday to check on him. When she peered through a window, she said, she saw broken pottery and overturned chairs. The apartment owner was summoned a short time later. She found blood inside the apartment and called police, Willoughby-Brown said.
Investigators found Gallardo’s body on the bathroom floor, apparently stabbed several times, according to a neighbor who said he had observed as police investigated the scene.
Police also found still-packed grocery bags on a kitchen counter, with a receipt dated Oct. 18, leading them to believe that Gallardo was killed two days earlier, Koebsell said.
The broken pots and overturned furniture indicated that a struggle had taken place, he said.
Investigators discovered that Gallardo’s Mercedes-Benz was missing. Later Thursday night, police said, they stopped Toro, a musician who had been playing at a local club, as he drove the car just five blocks from the death scene.
Toro told police that he knew nothing about the slaying and that the car had been loaned to him by a man he met a few days earlier through a mutual friend, Koebsell said.
Toro directed police to the Santa Fe Railroad right of way in Hermosa Beach, a park-like area that cuts through the city, where they found Ortega asleep in a car, Koebsell said.
The detectives handling the case could not be reached for comment. a Koebsell, a police supervisor, said he does not know what evidence police have to tie Ortega to the slaying or the suspected motive for the crime.
Gallardo, a bachelor, brought a flash of color to the close-knit business community along Pier Avenue when he arrived early last year. The red neon lighting and black-and-white tiles that decorated the front of the Hermosa Florist shop were eye-grabbers, neighboring businessmen said, and Gallardo gave discounts or free floral arrangements to his friends along the avenue.
He could always be counted on for a wave and smile, said Andy O’Neill of Beach Travel Agency. “Everybody knew him in a short period of time,” O’Neill said.
“We were all really shocked,” he said of the killing. “We just couldn’t believe it.”
Willoughby-Brown said Gallardo opened the shop to learn about flower retailing after he moved to the South Bay from a San Diego County ranch where he had raised exotic flowers.
Gallardo initially lived aboard a boat at King Harbor in Redondo Beach but moved to the Pier Avenue apartment about two weeks ago, she said.