Police search for Simi Valley suspect leads to car, body

Saturday, September 8, 2001

OJAI, Calif. -- A dead body was discovered deep in Los Padres National Forest Friday near where authorities found the rented vehicle used by a man suspected of killing three members of a Simi Valley family, police said.

"We have confirmed that it is the vehicle, and I have heard that there is a body but nobody has confirmed to us that it is him," said Sgt. Bob Gardner, a spokesman for the Simi Valley Police Department.

"The rangers up there found the car and saw a guy running away from it and that's where we are," Gardner said.

The body was found about 1 1/2 miles from a sport utility vehicle parked in clearing in a remote wilderness near Reyes Peak, about 30 miles north of Ojai in western Ventura County. Simi Valley and the national forest are northwest of metropolitan Los Angeles.

Simi Valley police and county sheriff's deputies were looking for Reynaldo Herrera Rodriguez, 35, a state highway department civil engineer they say targeted the family of a young woman with whom he had once had a relationship.

The discovery in the forest came after authorities revealed that Rodriguez had wrongly believed that the woman, Maria Rios, 24, had given him a blood disease.

Rios wasn't at home when a gunman walked into the family home and opened fire, killing her daughter, Shantal Rios, 4; brother Ricardo Calderon, 12, and grandmother, Esperanza Martinez, 80.

The gunman then fled in the rented vehicle.

Police said they were not sure Rodriguez's mistaken belief about the blood infection motivated the shootings.

"That's one of the possible (motives)," Gardner said

"The fact is, he does not have any diseases, nor does she. If he believes that, he's in error," Gardner said.

A car owned by Rodriguez was found early Friday in a church parking lot in his home town of Thousand Oaks.

The shooting also left two other family members wounded.

Rios' sister Lucia Vargas, 19, was in stable condition at Simi Valley Hospital with gunshot wounds. Brother Rigoberto Calderon, 16, was also hit by gunfire but wasn't seriously wounded.

Brother Rafael Calderon Jr., 18, escaped the gunfire but broke a wrist when he jumped out a second-story window and ran to a neighbor's house to call police.

After the shooting police learned that Rodriguez's home in Thousand Oaks had been set on fire about 20 minutes earlier. The fire was put out before major damage was done.

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