Two murder suspects who escaped from a jail on California’s Central Coast eluded an intense manhunt, traveled hundreds of miles and crossed into Mexico but were arrested trying to walk back into the United States, authorities said Wednesday.
Jonathan Salazar, 20, and Santos Fonseca, 21, were arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at a port of entry in San Ysidro — the nation’s largest border crossing — early Wednesday, said Monterey County Sheriff’s Office Capt. John Thornburg.
Thornburg said the two are in the custody of Monterey County officials and were on their way to a jail in Salinas.
Salazar and Fonseca escaped Sunday from the jail in Salinas after climbing through a hole they made in the ceiling of a bathroom, squeezing through a hollow wall and kicking open a hatch. Officials found their jail-issued jumpsuits outside the building. Inmates often wear their own clothes under the jumpsuits, Thornburg said.
Investigators have not determined how long they worked on making the hole or whether anyone else helped them escape or aided them after they were out. They were reported missing at 8:15 a.m. Sunday.
Thornburg said authorities received a tip that the pair, both born and raised in Salinas, had been spotted 400 miles south in Tijuana and alerted federal officials.
CBP spokeswoman Jackie Wasiluk said the men didn’t present any documents. They said they were U.S. citizens, and a check of law enforcement databases told border inspectors that they were wanted by authorities. How the pair made it to Mexico, why they decided to travel together, since they allegedly belong to rival gangs, and why they returned to the United States is under investigation, Thornburg said.
“The good news here is they are in custody again,” he said.
Salazar and Fonseca will be housed separately in a different housing unit from the one they escaped, Thornburg said, adding that officials had already made undisclosed security improvements to the jail.
Before the two were spotted in Tijuana, investigators received a credible tip from an employee at a motel in Marina, Calif., about 10 miles from the jail, who told them Salazar had checked in there Tuesday morning, but authorities found no one in the room after a nearly eight-hour standoff, Thornburg said.
Both men had been in custody since 2018 and were awaiting trial on murder counts and “numerous other felony charges” in separate cases. Salazar was arrested in the shooting death of 20-year-old Jaime Martinez as Martinez drove in Salinas with his girlfriend and 18-month-old son. The woman was shot and treated at a hospital, while the child wasn’t hurt.
Police investigated the Oct. 12, 2017, shooting as gang-related. Officers said Salazar’s tattoos, including the letter P on his cheek, refer to his Sureno offshoot gang, La Posada Trece, the Californian reported. His trial was scheduled to begin in January.
Fonseca is charged with shooting Lorenzo Gomez Acosta, 37, to death on June 2, 2018, while Gomez sat in his car on a video call with his wife in Mexico, the Californian reported. She saw a scuffle, heard her husband screaming “no” and then gunshots, Salinas Police Officer Froylan Aranda said. Gomez was reportedly chosen at random.
Det. Gabriela Contreras testified that Fonseca told police after his arrest on homicide charges that his gang leader told him to kill someone to prove he was still loyal to the Boronda Boys, a subset of the Norteno gang.
Three days after Gomez’s killing, Fonseca shot and killed Ernesto Garcia Cruz, 27, in a Salinas park, authorities said. He told police that the gang leader had also ordered that slaying, and that he picked his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend “to send him a message,” Contreras said.