Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Santa Maria, CA: Manhunt continues for stabbing suspect

Several times a week Selina Lopez Bustos would stop by her boyfriend’s home in the 1000 block of North Sixth Street. Neighbors said they frequently saw them sitting in a car, casually chatting the hours away.

Now police are on a manhunt for the boyfriend, Eduardo Robles, 23, a suspect in the Saturday morning stabbing death of Bustos, 30, an auto insurance agent who ran an office on North H Street.

The stabbing of Bustos is the fourth violent death in the Lompoc Valley since March 8, when a prison guard was killed in a Lompoc motel. In May a Mission Hills woman was stabbed to death. Earlier this month, a Lompoc man shot two people before being killed by police.

Sgt. Chuck Strange said Monday that police have received leads that Robles has left Santa Barbara County, but he added that it is too early to say the information is conclusive. Strange said Robles has contacts in northern and southern California, as well as Mexico.

“A lot of the evidence points out that he has left Lompoc,” Strange said. “He could have gone north or he could have gone south, but we’re trying to narrow down the scope of where he might be.”

Police are asking for any potential helpful information to track Robles, whom police described as 6 feet tall, weighing 200 to 230 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown hair. Police can be contacted at 736-2341.

Strange would not say whether witnesses had seen Robles fatally stab Bustos, but they did say that he was a strong suspect.

“There was definitely enough evidence and information to justify a warrant for his arrest,” Strange said.

On Monday morning, neighbors in the North Sixth Street neighborhood — the home Robles lived in stands out because of the overgrowth of weeds in the front yard — had little information about the homicide.

Neighbor Sharon McCrackin said she had often seen Bustos and Robles talking in a car that was always parked across the street from the house where Robles lived.

“She was there off and on all the time,” McCrackin said. “Sometimes in the day time, other times around the night time, but all the time.”

Neighbors said they did not know much about Robles, who shared a home with four others. Sharon’s husband, David McCrackin, said Robles was a pleasant neighbor.

“He’d always wave hi and grin,” said David McCrackin, who said communication did not go further than that.

Bustos was a more recognizable figure in Lompoc. The hometown girl graduated from Lompoc High School and then went on to Hancock College where she received four associate of arts degrees between fall 2000 to the spring of 2011. Bustos was studying for her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Antioch University Santa Barbara.

Bustos’ long-time friend, Carmen Perez, who was studying psychology at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, said that Bustos would have graduated next year. Two weeks ago they shared a meal and talked about their plans to become psychologists.

“We used to always talk about how we would go on in life and some day become psychologists and help people we love most and be there to support them,” Perez said. “I enjoyed every single time I spent with her.”

Friends and co-workers said Bustos doted on her two young nephews and was a regular attendee at La Purisima Concepcion Catholic Church in Lompoc.

Bustos and her older sister Elvira Bustos-Martinez were regulars, along with their father and mother. Bustos lived with her parents and supported both of them, who were unemployed, and those who knew her said family was the most important aspect of her life.

Bustos served as a Eucharistic Minister at La Purisima Church, giving communion when scheduled. She had participated in a prayer group back in 1999 and stayed involved in her church.

Maria Barboza, a friend and secretary at La Purisima Church, said that Bustos was regularly a popular choice for bridesmaid at weddings and welcomed at quinceanera.

“She has a natural beauty, but she always looked nicely,” Barboza said. “Looking nice and clean cut was important to her.”

Bustos also made a name for herself as an auto insurance agent in the community. She started off as a customer service agent before earning her license as an agent in November 2006.

Her long-time boss Robert Bales, of Acceptance Insurance Services, said that Bustos was responsible, self-confident, very dependable, and a meticulous dresser.

“We were hoping she would take over the business one day,” said Bales.

Robert’s wife, Linda Bales said, “I can’t say enough. I thought the world of her.”

Karina Araujo, 21, was hired by Bustos in March. A week ago, Bustos invited Araujo to get her nails done when she had an appointment. Bustos was a fun-loving person who thoroughly enjoyed shopping and would invite people along on shopping or lunch appointments, she said.

When the office became quiet, Araujo said, Bustos would turn up the radio and the two of them would sing Mexican banda music.

“We’d turn up the radio when we were bored,” Araujo said. “We’d start singing or dancing.”

Police received a call at 6:20 a.m. Saturday asking that they check the welfare of a woman in the 1000 block of North Sixth Street.

When David McCrackin came back from walking his dog he saw police cars gathered outside Robles’ home. There were three girls standing in the street crying hysterically and a group of boys were standing together further down the street.

“They were crying, they were hysterical,” McCrackin said.

Anyone interested in making a donation to the Bustos family can stop by Acceptance Insurance Services, 1012 North H St., or call 735-5555.

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