More than nine months after Karen Garcia’s body was found inside her car in a Woodland parking lot, law enforcement officials announced last week that the stolen van her ex-boyfriend was driving was located in Mexico.
The ex-boyfriend, Salvador Garcia Jr., is the primary suspect in Karen Garcia’s murder.
“Through cooperative efforts between the U.S. Marshals (Service) and the Mexican Government, investigators have been able to locate and recover the 2011 Toyota Sienna van, plate (no.) 6NYB823,” the Colusa Police Department said in a statement. “The van was located near Tijuana, Mexico. Further investigation into the circumstances revolving around the van are ongoing. The investigation continues to be a top priority for the U.S. Marshals and all local investigators involved.”
Colusa Police Chief Josh Fitch clarified that the van was found in a small town near Tijuana. When Mexican officials found the van there with the help of the U.S. Marshals Service, it was being driven by someone other the Salvador Garcia Jr., leading investigators to believe that the van had been sold at some point.
“That is my understanding, yes,” Fitch said.
While they didn’t make the announcement until last week, investigators said that the van was actually located in Mexico around two months ago, in August. The vehicle was already in the North State when the Colusa Police Department took possession of it and had it towed into Colusa County on Friday, Fitch said.
“The first I learned of it being in the North State was last week. We decided at that point to take custody of the car and bring it back to Colusa County,” Fitch said.
This is the first major announcement related to the case since Jan. 19, when officials said that they were searching for the van, which they believed may be associated with Garcia Jr. As was previously reported in this publication, the Pioneer Review learned through a since-sealed search warrant that the van belonged to Rafael Jauregui Velazquez, who is married to Garcia Jr.’s aunt, Veronica Vaca Alexander. According to statement of probable cause for the search warrant, Velazquez reported the van stolen to the Williams Police Department on Jan. 19, and told investigators that he had returned home from a trip to Mexico to discover his black 2011 Toyota Sienna van was missing, along with the keys.
Garcia Jr. hasn’t been seen since Saturday, Jan. 13, when he was present at a car tagging event in Williams, held to raise awareness of Karen Garcia’s disappearance and to help bring her home. Investigators believe that she was killed by Garcia Jr. on the day she was reported missing – Jan. 8 – the day after her sister and four other Colusa County residents were killed by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 5. Her family reported her missing to the Williams Police Department after she failed to show for her sister’s wake.
Investigators searched a residence on the 400-block of Oak St. in Colusa, where Karen Garcia and Salvador Garcia Jr. lived with their daughter, on Jan. 12, four days after she was reported missing. There they found “a large amount of blood,” which was later confirmed through DNA analysis to belong to Karen Garcia.
While that warrant was being executed, an investigator with the District Attorney’s office interviewed Salvador Garcia Jr. at the Williams Police Department. Garcia Jr. quickly ended the interview and was allowed to leave. His car was seized, and blood in the trunk was later confirmed to be Karen Garcia’s. Her body and car were found in Woodland the next day.
Anyone with information regarding the case is still being asked to immediately contact the Colusa Police Department at (530) 458-7777. The department, in conjunction with the U.S. Marshals Service, is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Garcia Jr. ■