The mystery began four days ago when Darwin Vela took his chocolate Labrador for a walk. Minutes later, Vela’s fiancee found the dog whimpering outside with blood on his leash and no sign of the 22-year-old man.
Police began searching for Vela, who was set to testify Thursday in the case of a convicted felon facing a “third-strike” conviction for allegedly breaking into the home Nicholas Cage’s ex-girlfriend. Thursday came and went with no sign of Vela.
Then Friday, Vela emerged on the Westside. He flagged down a motorist, who alerted police. Los Angeles police Lt. Julian Melendez said Vela told investigators he’d been abducted and held prisoner for three days.
Vela suffered some injuries and was treated by paramedics, he added. Prosecutors confirmed Friday that Vela and his fiancee were key witnesses against Ricardo Orozco, who allegedly stole computers and other items from the home of Christina Fulton in August. But officials would not speculate on whether Vela’s disappearance was tied to the case.
Vela’s fiancee, Kelly McLaren, said the couple witnessed the break-in and confirmed they were scheduled to testify. “Without us, there isn’t a case,” she said.
McLaren took the stand Thursday, but invoked her 5th Amendment right not to testify, said Los Angeles County district attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison. But a police detective took the stand and discussed an encounter involving Orozco, Vela and McLaren and an attorney who has represented actor Charlie Sheen, Robison said.
The detective said that before the break-in, Orozco, Vela and McLaren met with the attorney and told him they knew of a sex tape involving Sheen, Robison said. They said they did not have the tape, the detective testified, and the attorney told them he would talk only to someone who had it.
Robison said the alleged sex tape has not materialized, and officials question whether it even exists.
McLaren declined Friday to comment on the detective’s testimony, saying she was not in the courtroom at the time and did not hear it.
The search for Vela began Tuesday night when McLaren – who skipped the couple’s usual walk so she could shower – found their dog outside. “When I came out, I heard the dog crying,” she said. “He was outside alone, and Darwin wasn’t there.”
The 90-pound Lab was “cowering,” McLaren said. When she noticed the blood on his leash, she called 911 “right away.”
Officers combed the neighborhood with a helicopter and bloodhound, and although the dog briefly picked up Vela’s scent, police found no sign of him. His wallet, keys and cellphone were left behind, McLaren said.
McLaren said her fiancee was “not the type of person” to disappear without notice.