Shooting deaths at scenic lookouts in Pasadena and Rancho Palos Verdes appear connected; 6 arrested

Leanne Suter Image
Thursday, July 27, 2023
Shooting deaths at 2 SoCal lookouts appear connected; 6 arrested
Authorities confirmed arrests in connection with the separate shooting deaths of victims who were in parked cars when they were killed in Rancho Palos Verdes and Pasadena.

PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- Authorities on Wednesday confirmed that arrests have been made in connection with the deaths of victims who were in parked cars at scenic lookouts when they were shot days apart in Rancho Palos Verdes and Pasadena.

Six suspects who police say are part of a criminal street gang were arrested in the shooting death of a man in Pasadena. The suspects are believed to be connected to the deadly shootings of a man and woman in Rancho Palos Verdes, Pasadena police said.

"Our suspects focused on targeting victims who were parked in scenic turnouts, or areas that were somewhat desolate with very little cellphone reception," Pasadena police Lt. Keith Gomez said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "In most cases, those victims were distracted when they were assaulted."

Gomez declined to give specifics about the alleged link between the two cases, saying the sheriff's department investigation was still ongoing. He said repeatedly, however, that investigators believe the shootings are connected.

The suspects are believed to be responsible for other armed robberies in L.A. County. They were arrested in Panorama City Tuesday.

The first incident was initially reported as a single-vehicle crash shortly before 3:30 a.m. Saturday on Angeles Crest Highway, according to the Pasadena Police Department.

California Highway Patrol officers responded to the scene and found a damaged sedan that had been occupied by two adults. The driver, later identified as 32-year-old Jessie Munoz, was unresponsive.

While attempting life-saving measures, the officers realized that Munoz had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, authorities said. He was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency personnel.

The passenger, a woman, was unharmed.

The stretch of the Angeles Crest Highway where the scene was located is under the jurisdiction of Pasadena police, who were thus notified of the homicide. Officers from that agency responded to the location and assumed command of the investigation.

Munoz's family says he took a friend up to the lookout to see a sunrise. His sister Leslie described him as someone who didn't bother anyone.

"Someone came and took his life like it was a piece of trash," she said.

A GoFundMe has since been set up to help his family.

"I just want justice for my brother so I can be able to take a breath and say, 'This is all over,'" said Jesse's other sister Ivette Munoz. "My brother's now in peace because we got the people that did this to him."

Detectives say Munoz's passenger was key in their investigation.

Two days later, on Monday morning, a man and woman were found shot to death inside a bullet-riddled car that was parked at an ocean overlook in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Deputies were dispatched to the 7000 block of Palos Verdes Drive shortly before 7 a.m., the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said. Upon their arrival they found Jorge Ramos and TaylorRaven Whittaker inside a blue Subaru sedan.

The identities of Ramos and Whittaker were released by coroner's officials.

Gomez said he believes the suspects arrested are connected to the shooting in Rancho Palos Verdes, but he deferred to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for updates on that investigation.

"I will tell you that everything that we have gathered over the last couple days, as far as investigate leads, facts, we have forwarded that to the sheriff's department and other agencies that are investigating crimes that may be connected to our suspects," Gomez said.

In a statement posted on social media Monday, the Team Subaru 15 SoCal car club mourned Ramos' death.

"It is with heavy hearts that we confirm that our beloved brother Jorge has passed away. This loss comes as a surprise to all of us. It is a shocking thing to start your day with, in what ultimately is a private family matter," the statement said. "We appreciate your support in providing privacy to his friends and family in this difficult moment. Join us in lifting a member of the Subaru Community and S15 SoCal OG to his resting place in the sky. RIP."

Robbery was deemed to be the initial motive for the Pasadena case, investigators say.

Anyone with information about the shootings is urged to contact Pasadena police at (626) 744-4241 or the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous calls can be made to Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

City News Service contributed to this report.