When Mark Wilson met David A. Garcia, he had no idea that the quiet
teenager who rented Room 331 would become Burbank’s most wanted man.
Wilson, general manager of the Ramada Inn at 2900 N. San Fernando
Blvd., called Garcia into his office about three weeks ago because he
was a day late on his rent.
“He apologized for falling behind, paid for the night and went
back to his room,” Wilson recalled this week. “But he seemed like a
confused individual. Not like he was using drugs, but that he just
wasn’t grasping what I told him.”
Garcia, 19, has eluded authorities since a shootout Nov. 15 in the
hotel’s north parking lot that left Burbank Police Officer Matthew
Pavelka dead and fellow officer Gregory Campbell critically wounded.
Police have not said if Garcia was dealing drugs on the night of
the shooting, but the area surrounding the hotel is known for drug
sales and car theft. Authorities found 3 ounces of methamphetamine in
the sport utility vehicle Garcia abandoned during his getaway.
Wilson said neither he nor his staff had any reason to suspect
Garcia of any illegal activity during his stay at the hotel, where he
paid $69 a day for a single room. Garcia, he added, kept a low
profile, acted politely and was rarely seen around the building.
“We had no complaints [about him] from any of the guests, because
he didn’t disturb anyone,” Wilson said. “He was very low-key and
unobtrusive during his time here.”
The Sun Valley teenager spent 34 days at the hotel before the
shooting, and, according to Wilson, paid his room fee with cash every
day -- a total of $2,346. The room was rented to Garcia, not Ramon
Aranda, Garcia’s accomplice who died in the gunfight, and Aranda was
not seen staying at the hotel, Wilson said.
Garcia blended in with other long-term occupants at the hotel,
where 15% of business comes from professionals staying in the city
for work or people who are between permanent residences, Wilson said.
He added that the hotel’s convenient access to the Golden State (5)
Freeway makes it attractive to a wide variety of customers.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Burbank Police Officer Edgar
Penaranda said. “The hotel brings in clientele who are honest and
need a place to stay while driving on the most-traveled freeway in
California, but bad characters also use it as an opportunity [for
Penaranda said the area -- bordered by Buena Vista Street, Grismer
Avenue and Glenoaks and San Fernando boulevards -- also attracts drug
dealers and users because it’s primarily an industrial area with poor
street lighting and parking lots that are empty at night. At least
one arrest is made there every night, he said.
Steve Smuck, an engineer at Deltron Engineering on North San
Fernando Boulevard across from the hotel, was surprised to hear about
Pavelka’s death because he always thought the area was safe.
“I’ve eaten [at the hotel restaurant] twice for lunch and once for
dinner, and I’ve never seen anyone loitering there,” Smuck said.
“It’s always pretty quiet.”