The meth connection -- Drug, sensational crimes have long association in region

Date: 2007-08-26

From superior court judges to casual newspaper readers, residents of San Diego County already know of the connection between violent crime and methamphetamine abuse.

What may be surprising, however, is the frequency of the connection. With an almost eerie dependability, meth has been associated with many of the most sensational crimes in the county's recent history.

Infamous, chilling and just plain bizarre acts have been committed by people on meth: Brutal slayings, kidnappings and suicidal assaults on police are just some of the more violent ones.

Methamphetamine, a stimulant that can be smoked, snorted or injected, is a highly addictive drug that can cause paranoia and delusions in long-term users. Addicts have turned to petty and sophisticated crimes to supply their habits, but often it is the senseless, unmotivated crimes that attract the most attention.

San Diegans likely will never forget Army veteran Shawn Timothy Nelson, who slipped into the National Guard Armory near Mesa College on May 17, 1995.

With his house in foreclosure, his life in a downward spiral and his brain ravaged by meth, Nelson pried open the hatch of an M-60 Patton tank, climbed inside and barreled down Clairemont Mesa streets, flattening cars and snapping lampposts like matchsticks before getting stuck on a Highway 163 median, where he was shot to death by a police officer.

In a similar incident with a less tragic ending, Cameron Taylor reportedly was on meth when he hijacked a San Diego bus at knifepoint in 1997, leading a police chase over 70 miles in 2 1/2 hours before he was captured.

On Death Row

Meth users have killed in moments of confused delusions or plotted and committed murders in cold blood.

One of the county's most disturbing murders occurred in Chula Vista in 1995. Veronica Gonzales was caring for her niece, 3 1/2-year-old Genny Rojas, with her husband, Ivan, because Genny's father was in prison and her mother was in drug rehabilitation.

But Genny's aunt and uncle were on meth, and in no shape to care for a young child. They tortured the little girl for six months before eventually scalding her to death in a bathtub.

They became the first married couple sent to California's death row.


Meth also was involved in what prosecutors at the time called the most heinous crime ever seen in the county. David Allan Webb was 16 in 1991 when he kidnapped Amanda Gaeke, 9, in North Park.

For 36 hours, Webb drugged the little girl and kept her in his bedroom in his mother's house, torturing and raping her when he was home and tying her under his bed when he went to school. He eventually killed her and hid the body in a canyon. The crime went unsolved until he was arrested and pleaded guilty in 1997.

Webb's attorney said he believed methamphetamine and other drugs played a significant role in the crime.

'American Beauty'

The headline-grabbing story of Kristin Rossum also had a methamphetamine connection. In what was called the "American Beauty" murder because of a similar scene in a movie by that name, Rossum covered her husband with rose pedals after poisoning him.

As a toxicologist with the county medical examiner's officer, Rossum used chemicals that she believed would not be found in his system, then tried to make the murder appear to be a suicide.

Investigators discovered she was having an affair at work with a man who did not report her drug use. A former addict, Rossum had returned to methamphetamine before the murder.

More recently in North County, meth may have played a role in the February death of a man shocked by deputies with a stun gun.

Oceanside resident Martin Mendoza, 43, reportedly was claiming that someone was after him and acting erratically when a deputy used a stun gun to subdue him. Mendoza stopped breathing and was taken to Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, where he died three days later.

His was the first death associated with a Taser since the Sheriff's Department began using them the previous year. Methamphetamine intoxication was listed on the death certificate as one of several conditions that led to his death.

Vista's bloody summer

In Vista, the summer of 2005 was one of bloodiest the city had ever seen. Three Latino men were shot to death by sheriff's deputies in just five days, sparking accusations of racism from residents.

But county District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis noted that the men had other things in common besides their race. Each had a criminal record, and all three had meth in their systems when shot.

Meth also was associated with the grisly murder of Nicole "Nicci" Sinkule, beaten to death with a claw hammer in her Oceanside home Oct. 16, 2005.

Sinkule was murdered by her boyfriend, Eric Marum, a former National Merit Scholar semifinalist and a 2002 graduate of UCLA, where he was a track athlete with Olympic aspirations.

He began using meth in 2004, and at the time of the killing was suffering from what a county forensic doctor called "methamphetamine-induced psychosis."

As he would later explain in his confession, Marum struck Sinkule on the head 13 times with a hammer because he thought she was "evil." He was sentenced to at least 16 years in prison following his guilty plea to second-degree murder.

Unlike many cases in which methamphetamine was said to have played a role in a crime, the drug was called the major factor in the Sinkule killing.

"(Marum) was sorry for what he'd done, and he understands it was a mistake, and but for him using methamphetamines, he wouldn't have taken her life and ruined his own," said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Dan Segura, who also said the case should be used to tell others not to use the drug.

Contact staff writer Gary Warth at (760) 740-5410 or gwarth@nctimes.com.

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