The way police tell it, Ruben Castaneda picked the wrong people to carjack.
Brandishing a broken beer bottle, he allegedly ordered a 39-year-old woman and her four female teenage passengers out of her car Thursday night in El Monte. Moments later, he was lying unconscious on the concrete, bleeding from the head, while the victims awaited the police--scared but unharmed.
Castaneda had tried to drive off with Gloria Salazar’s car outside her Meeker Avenue apartment, police said, only to be disarmed by two teenage girls who knocked him to the ground--twice.
“He was not unconscious when I arrived, but he was dazed and in a state of confusion,” El Monte Police Officer George Fierro said. “So, yeah, he had been rocked.”
With the attacker holding the jagged edge of the bottle not far from her mother’s neck, Alice Martinez, 19, jumped out of the front passenger seat and seized him by the throat with her right arm, she said.
She yelled at her mother to run indoors. Then Martinez caught the hand holding the beer bottle and threw the assailant to the ground, she said. His head landed on the pavement with a resounding crack.
“I didn’t want him to do anything to my mom,” Martinez later said coolly.
When the man rose to his feet and tried to attack the passengers in the back seat, 16-year-old family friend Alicia Navarro punched him in the face, got out of the car and kicked the bottle out of his hand, police said. Martinez slammed the car door on the attacker, and then together the two teenagers dragged the ill-fated assailant out of the car and tossed him to the ground.
Martinez, who is just over 5 feet tall, said she did not have time to think before grabbing the suspect, who is 5 feet 7.
“I just saw him put the glass to my mommy; I guess that’s what made me do it,” Martinez said. “I wasn’t really thinking.”
Castaneda, 20, rose one final time to his knees, but then sagged back onto the concrete, where he stayed until the police arrived a few minutes later, Martinez said.
Fierro said the suspect was intoxicated. Castaneda was unresponsive to police orders to stay away from the broken bottle, prompting Fierro to use pepper spray to subdue him.
Castaneda was taken to Greater El Monte Community Hospital for stitches before being booked at the El Monte Jail on suspicion of attempted carjacking.
He later complained of further pain and was transferred to County-USC Medical Center, where he is listed in stable condition.
The women said they had been waiting for another passenger when they saw the suspect drinking a bottle of beer next to a trash bin in the apartment complex’s parking lot. Once they got into the car, he allegedly smashed the bottle against the bin and advanced toward them.
“He came at us telling us to get out of the car in Spanish and didn’t look like he would stop for anything,” Salazar said. “I freaked out.”
She was still shaken by the attack, but her fear was mixed with pride for what her daughter and friend had done.
“I’m very proud of them. I have all girls. They won’t leave me, and I won’t leave them. We take care of each other. They take good care of me,” she said. Martinez “is my hero because she protects me. I’ve never in my whole life seen her do anything like that.”
Police said the apartment complex where the attack occurred is known as a center of criminal and gang activity in the community, but residents said they had never before seen anything like Thursday’s attack.
“People come in here and steal radios and stuff, but nothing like this,” said resident Chris Begay, 33.