Standoff Nets Suspect--but It's Not George

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An East San Diego neighborhood was in an uproar Thursday afternoon believing that Johnaton George, the jail escapee charged with killing a motorist in the Gaslamp Quarter on Monday, was in their midst.

But the man police arrested after a two-hour standoff turned out to be a suspect in a different case who had eluded police since August, officials said.

Steve Leonard Simmons, 26, of San Diego was arrested in the 3700 block of Chamoune Avenue after a SWAT team threw a tear-gas canister into the apartment building in which he was hiding, authorities said.

Police had been searching for a man suspected of robbing a National City couple in their home Aug. 18, raping the woman and stealing their car, said National City Police Officer Rick Stark. The other suspect in the case, Alfred Lucas Jr. of San Diego, was arrested Aug. 29, Stark said.

With George still at large, residents became terrified when about 20 SWAT officers surrounded an apartment building. The block was roped off and people were evacuated from their homes for more than two hours as negotiators tried to coax a man from his second-story room.

Hilda Contreras, a neighbor, said she came to pick up her child near the building and saw mothers yelling at their children to run. Everyone thought it was George, she said.

"The kids were screaming, they thought there was shooting. They were so afraid," Contreras said.

"I thought it was him because he's escaped," said Adela James, who lives nearby. "I was scared because I was home all alone. Everyone in my building was away at work."

Police Officer Mike Lambert said he also thought the call was about George at first, "but still, (Simmons) is a good guy to get off the street."

Another neighbor had just finished work and had come to see what was going on. She said she heard that the man in the apartment was the one "from downtown" that police were hunting.

"I just hope they catch the guy, whoever he is," she said.

A second-grader waited inside a school bus as police searched for her parents.

"I thought I heard a gunshot, but it was a concussion grenade," said a woman who asked not to be identified. Her children were in the apartment complex with her boyfriend when the SWAT team arrived at 2 p.m. "I came down the street and asked what was going on. They (police) told me to stay out. All I wanted was to get my kids out of there."

The woman's boyfriend, Shane Crenshaw, said he put the children on the floor near the living-room couch and moved a stereo cabinet to barricade them in. Police soon evacuated the family.

"I'd have seen (George) if he'd been walking around here," the woman said. "then I would have called the police."

Simmons was taken into custody, police said. The ropes were taken down. People ran back into the area and saw the SWAT team leaving.

But George is still at large.

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