Authorities seek the whereabouts of Salvador Garcia Jr., a primary suspect in the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Karen Garcia. (Facebook Photo)

Hundreds of friends and family of the five young adults killed in last Sunday’s crash in Yolo County gathered for a candlelight vigil in Williams, just an hour after many had learned that a vehicle belonging to Karen Garcia, the sister of one of the crash victims, had been found in Woodland with a deceased occupant inside.

Garcia had been missing since Jan. 8, the day after her sister, Jessica, was killed by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 5.

While Colusa County residents were mourning and remembering the crash victims at the Town Square in Williams, a manhunt was going on around them. Law enforcement officials were there searching for Salvador Garcia Jr., the ex-boyfriend of Karen and the father of her two-year-old child.

Salvador Garcia, officials would later confirm, is suspected of murdering Karen.

According to Colusa Police Chief Josh Fitch, the couple had recently split up. The breakup was preceded by a domestic violence incident in December, according to Colusa County Superior Court records. A charge for domestic violence battery was filed in the court on Dec. 29. Fitch confirmed on Monday that Karen was the victim in the case.

As of Monday night, Salvador Garcia remained at large, and the Colusa Police Department was asking for the publics’ help in finding him. Officials said on Sunday night that the couple’s daughter was safe and with family.

Initially, the Williams Police Department – which took the missing person’s report – said in a press release on Thursday that there was no indication of foul play in Karen Garcia’s disappearance; but leading up to Sunday, officers and investigators from multiple county agencies served a search warrant at an apartment in Colusa shared by Karen and Salvador, on the 400-block of Oak Street. That was on Friday, and the search warrant turned up evidence of a homicide, law enforcement officials said in a statement. Fitch said on Monday morning that a bloodstain was found at the apartment, and later found in Salvador’s vehicle, connecting him to the crime. The Department of Justice had just processed his car on Sunday, which is why he was not named a suspect immediately after officers began to suspect foul play on Friday.

“We were just waiting for the car to be processed,” Fitch said. “We found evidence of foul play at the apartment, but we just didn’t know at that point.”

He added that the vehicle remains in police custody.

The Colusa Police Department also issued a warrant for Salvador Garcia’s cell phone, which was turned over to them, a relative of Karen Garcia said on Friday.

Salvador Garcia was interviewed by multiple broadcast media networks in the days following Karen’s alleged murder. He appeared with their daughter in an interview with CBS13 claiming that Karen “…got in her car and took off (on Monday), just in a rush to get out.” He was present during a car tagging event in Williams on Saturday, an event put on to help raise awareness of Karen’s disappearance and bring her home. He hasn’t been seen since.

After the search warrant was served on Friday, Karen and her vehicle were subsequently entered into the missing person’s database as the investigation continued, officials said.

Finally, on Sunday, they received a call from an unidentified third party who said they had located a vehicle with a license plate matching that of Karen’s in Woodland, in the parking lot between the Marshalls and CVS Pharmacy at 45 West Main St.

Woodland police officers responded to find the vehicle with a single, deceased occupant inside and cordoned off the area before removing the vehicle on a flatbed. The body was later positively identified as Karen Garcia.

At this point, it is unclear how Karen and her vehicle ended up in Woodland, and how Salvador would have gotten back into town.

“We don’t know,” Fitch said. “We’re investigating it to see if anybody else was involved.”
Karen was reported as missing on Jan. 9, after she didn’t show up for her sister’s 8 PM vigil on the night before and missed her shift at Granzella’s that day. She was last seen alive at her Oak Street residence at around 12 PM on Jan. 8, by her friend and neighbor Linda Quintero, according to multiple reports.

According to the initial press release from the Williams Police Department, at about 1:15 PM on Jan. 8, another friend sent a text to Karen sending their condolences for her sister’s death, to which Karen replied back, “Thank you.” Later that day, at around 5 PM, Karen’s sister received a text from Karen’s cellphone telling her that she was in Roseville and was going to Vacaville, which was last time there was contact with her, the press release said.
On Jan. 9, a friend – after not receiving any reply from Karen – attempted to electronically locate her phone. According to the friend, the phone showed as being in Marysville, Williams Police said. The Marysville Police Department was contacted and the information about Karen and her car were provided to them. A search of the area was conducted but officers were unable to locate her or her car, officials said.

In the evening hours of Jan. 11, Williams Police Officers received information that Karen was possibly seen in the Roseville and Sacramento areas, and investigators followed up with those locations on Jan. 12, determining that the person seen was not Karen. They also checked with surrounding law enforcement agencies to see if her vehicle had been seen in the areas of the Sacramento Airport, Roseville Galleria, Vacaville, and as far south as the Los Angeles area. It had not, the department said in a second statement issued on Friday.

■ Editors note: For updated information on this article, please visit our website www.colusacountynews.com.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net