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Kin Regain Pickup in Freeway Slaying

Times Staff Writer

The family of Juan Trujillo, who was fatally shot on the Santa Ana Freeway in August, finally regained possession of his truck Monday when the owner of an Orange towing company agreed to forgo $300 in storage charges and released the vehicle.

Tony Suskie, owner of Tony’s Unocal 76 & Towing, said he has received more than 70 phone calls--including 15 bomb threats--after The Times reported that he would not release the pickup truck to Trujillo’s family before collecting the fee for towing and storage.

“I didn’t even realize the circumstances in the situation,” Suskie said. “I get police-impounded cars all the time, and there is no way for me to know that the family was poor and didn’t have the money to get it out.”

Trujillo, who lived in Anaheim, became the first Orange County person killed in a freeway shooting Aug. 6 when someone opened fire on his truck as Trujillo, his brother Jose and a cousin were returning home from a restaurant. The other two passengers were not injured.

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Police have made no arrests in the shooting.

Trujillo’s family could not claim his yellow, 1973 Datsun pickup because it was impounded by police as evidence. Later, family members were told they would have to pay a $120 fee--a sum the family said it could not afford--which climbed to more than $631 in accumulated fees and charges at one point.

Both the Mexican consulate and Orange police intervened in the case, and Suskie says he eventually agreed to accept half that amount in exchange for the truck to cut his losses, but he said he was not fully aware of the family’s plight until a news story appeared Saturday.

“That’s why I did it originally,” he said. “But since learning of the entire situation, I decided to take the loss. I am doing a pretty good

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business so I can afford it forsomething like this. I’ve done itbefore.”

The average rate for storage, Suskie said, is $12 a day. “Legally I had every right to charge the regular rates for this,” Suskie said. “I have a business to run, I wasn’t going out of my way to be cruel.”

According to Orange police, Carmen Zaragoza, Trujillo’s sister, and her husband, Juan, were notified on Aug 11. that the truck had been released from the crime lab and taken to a storage yard.

“The officer handling the case stressed to the family that getting the car as soon as possible was important or fees for storage would accumulate,” said Dave Hill, a spokesman for the Orange Police Department. “We also told them . . . to contact the police again if they had any problems getting the truck back, but no contact was made again until about a month later when the Mexican consulate got involved.”

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Hill added that police officers had to communicate with family members, who speak little English, through their 10-year old daughter and that misunderstandings because of the language barrier could have played a key part in the delay of the truck’s return.

But the family still contends that each time information was sought about the truck, they were told by the towing company that it wasn’t ready for release.

“They would tell us we couldn’t get it,” Carmen Zaragoza said."Then we were told that we had to pay a lot of money. We didn’t know what to do.” Suskie said that the family was also notified by mail that the truck was ready for release shortly after Aug.11. and that they did not respond until two weeks later.

“I never spoke with them, but they came to the lot on Sept. 1 and showed one of my employees the claim ticket,” Suskie said. “When they discovered how much it was they just left angry. I didn’t hear anymore from the case until the police contacted me last week.”

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With the truck--which still shows signs of Pedro Trujillo’s blood--finally in their possession, the Zaragozas hope to sell it and use the money to travel back to Mexico and visit their slain relative’s grave site.


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