A Duarte man wanted in the fatal shooting of a popular West Covina vocational school teacher has escaped from a Mexicali jail and is being sought in Mexico and this country, Mexican and local authorities said Friday.
Martin Anthony Meza, who is suspected of killing Carolyn Vasquez, 36, and wounding two others Aug. 16 at the North-West College of Medical and Dental Assistants, used a tiny shovel to tunnel 30 yards under a wall of the Mexicali State Jail Wednesday and fled with another inmate, said Juan Felipe Herrera-De La Cruz, a jail spokesman.
The tunnel was not discovered for three hours, Herrera said. The second inmate, a physician suspected of drug smuggling, was recaptured Thursday night in Mexicali, he said.
“I think they got help from outside people,” Herrera said in a telephone interview.
West Covina Police Detective David Melnyk said Meza, 24, has shaved his mustache and lost “a lot of weight from being in a Mexican jail.”
Police have notified witnesses to the shooting that Meza is on the loose, said the detective, as “a normal precaution.” “We don’t have any information that he is on his way back here to hunt people down, but we’d be negligent if we didn’t notify people to allow them to do whatever they want to do about it,” Melnyk said.
Meza is likely to return to the United States, said Melnyk, because “all of his family and friends and connections are here.”
The reputed gang member, known to his associates in Duarte as “Chief,” had been held in Mexicali since Baja California Norte state police arrested him and his girlfriend, Lisa Villela, 19, four days after the shooting.
Villela, who is now eight months pregnant, was sent back to the United States immediately, but Mexican authorities decided to prosecute Meza because he is a Mexican citizen, a turn of events Meza was not pleased with, according to Melnyk.
Villela, who police say drove the getaway car in the shooting, pleaded innocent to one count of first-degree murder and two of attempted murder. Her trial is expected to begin next month and she is being held in lieu of a $250,000 bail.
The young woman has contended she was terrified of Meza, who she said forced her to go along with him to the shooting.
Meza allegedly intended to kill Robin Stanford, a school counselor who had advised Villela to go to a woman’s shelter to escape beatings from Meza. Stanford, Vasquez and Ronald Lee, 17, a student from Rosemead, were hit by a barrage of bullets.
Mexican authorities have said Meza told them that the shooting was sparked by Villela accusing the counselor of raping her. Police maintain no such rape occurred.
At first, investigators thought Meza had kidnapped Villela after the shooting. They changed their minds after learning the two had been seen headed for Mexico and that Villela did not seem to be under duress.