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Fourth victim dies in string of attacks on homeless in L.A., Santa Monica

Fourth victim dies in string of attacks on homeless in L.A., Santa Monica
At left, Ramon Escobar appearing in court. At right, a surveillance image shows a man who police say attacked homeless men in downtown L.A. (Los Angeles Police Department)

A man who was battered in Santa Monica during a spate of attacks on the region’s sprawling and vulnerable homeless population last month died of his injuries Sunday, authorities said.

The victim, who was not immediately identified, was struck in the head while sleeping in the area of 7th Street and Broadway in Santa Monica early on the morning of Sept. 24, police have said.

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He was the last in a string of victims police believe were beaten by Ramon Escobar, a 47-year-old Houston man suspected of killing four men and seriously injuring four others as they slept outside in Los Angeles and Santa Monica from Sept. 8 to Sept. 24. Escobar, who is also a person of interest in the disappearance of two of his relatives in Texas, was captured by Santa Monica police shortly after the Sept. 24 attack.

Santa Monica Police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said investigators will ask the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to file an additional murder charge against Escobar.

Escobar was charged with three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of robbery late last month.

Detectives have said Escobar fled to Southern California from Houston in early September after his aunt and uncle, Dina and Rogelio Escobar, vanished in the Houston area. The charred remains of Dina Escobar’s vehicle were found on a beach in Galveston, Texas, in late August, and Houston police officials have said they suspect foul play in the disappearances.

In Southern California, police say Escobar wielded a baseball bat or bolt cutters in a series of attacks that left three other men dead.

Kelvin Williams, 59, and Braden Ridout, 34, were beaten to death with a wooden baseball bat as they slept outside in downtown Los Angeles’ Financial District on Sept. 16. Another man sleeping nearby, Tievon Harmon, 23, was critically injured in those attacks, police said.

Four days later, on Sept 20, 39-year-old Steven Ray Cruze Jr. of San Gabriel was found dead under the Santa Monica Pier smashed in the head. Cruze had been sleeping under the pier after an overnight fishing trip and was not homeless, his family said.

Detectives believe Escobar also assaulted two other homeless men near the beach in Santa Monica on Sept. 8 and 10. One of those victims has been released from the hospital, but the other remains comatose, Rodriguez said.

On Sept. 22, he also attacked a man who suffered critical injuries in the Palms neighborhood, according to the LAPD. Harmon remained in critical condition Wednesday, according to Capt. Patricia Sandoval, an LAPD spokeswoman. The victim in the Palms attack has been interviewed by police and is expected to survive, she said.

In the days following his arrest, questions about Escobar’s immigration status and mental competency began to swirl. Escobar was born in El Salvador and had been deported six times between 1997 and 2011, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He was ordered deported again in 2016, but an appeal of his removal was granted by a federal judge, records show.

ICE has not responded to multiple requests from The Times for additional information. The Department of Justice denied a request for additional information, citing privacy laws.

Escobar has yet to enter a plea in the pending murder and attempted murder cases in Southern California. He is scheduled to appear in court again on Nov. 8.

A review of court records also showed Escobar was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2001 and spent time in the Harris County Psychiatric Center in Houston. A federal judge also ordered a hearing on his competency during a deportation proceeding in 2012, records show. Records about Escobar’s mental health were sealed.

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Times Staff Writers Brittny Mejia and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the surviving victims of the Los Angeles attacks.

This article was first published at 12:05 p.m.

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