Accused killer makes first appearance in court Tuesday afternoon

UPDATED: August 8, 2019 at 11:50 AM

A preliminary hearing will be set on Oct. 9 for the Williams native accused of slaying Karen Garcia, the young mother who was murdered just one day after her sister and her three friends were killed by a drunk driver near Woodland.

After more than a year on the run, Salvador Garcia-Vaca, 23, his name corrected from Garcia, Jr. last week by the court, walked into Colusa County Superior Court on Aug. 6 with his head down and wearing a bulletproof vest.

Garcia-Vaca was apprehended by the U.S. Marshals Service around Aug. 1 after being located in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. He was turned over to the Colusa County Task Force early in the morning on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, and was booked into the Colusa County Jail.

Garcia-Vaca appeared in court last week represented by private attorney Matthew C.

Smith, and will face charges of killing the mother of his child, and a single battery charge for the December 29, 2017, domestic violence incident believed to be the precursor to the couple’s break up just prior to Karen’s death of blunt force trauma to her head. Her body was found in her car in a Woodland parking lot almost one week later.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for 8:30 AM on Oct. 9 on the battery charge.

Karen met Garcia-Vaca in middle school and they started dating a few years later when both were students at Williams High School, said Karen’s best friend, Linda Quintero. They worked together at Granzella’s and were the proud parents of a 2-year-old daughter, who now lives out of state with Karen’s family.

The couple also shared many of the same friends that on Tuesday sat just a short distance from Garcia-Vaca, who was brought to the courthouse from the Colusa County Jail in shackles, after being captured in Mexico on Aug. 1 by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Quintero said the man she had not seen since he gave tearful interviews following Karen’s disappearance and then vanished himself before the police closed in on him, looked much different from the young friend who had been a groomsman at her own wedding.

“He did not look like himself,” said Quintero. “It was just an uneasy feeling.”
Except for Garcia-Vaca’s split-second glance around the gallery when he entered the courtroom, likely in search of his own family sitting quietly in the back, Garcia-Vaca did not make eye contact with anyone other than with his private attorney, Matthew C. Smith, and Superior Court Judge William S. Abel, who was on the bench from retirement.

“I didn’t try to (make eye contact),” said Quintero, shaken from the proceedings. “I did not want to.”

Due to the large amount of discovery compiled by law enforcement that is being given to Smith electronically to sift through, Judge Abel continued the case two months.

Despite the publicity surrounding Karen’s death and sister Jessica’s fatal car crash the day before, which included a major feature by John Walsh in the television series “In Pursuit,” last February, Garcia-Vaca is, under the law, presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Karen’s family did not attend the proceedings Tuesday and have asked for privacy at this time, while still relaying their joy that Garcia-Vaca was arrested and returned to Colusa.

Deep down, however, Quintero said she suspected her best friend’s fate early on in the investigation by the way Vaca-Garcia behaved after Karen missed her sister’s vigil.

Even though Quintero told the seemingly grieving young man he had nothing to worry about if he had nothing to do Karen’s disappearance, she said that, in some way, it was just an appeasement.

“It was to keep him calm so he wouldn’t run,” Quintero said. “When he did run, I was shocked that he got away so fast and got away so far.”
As the wheels of justice turn slowly through the courts, Quintero said she would always remember Karen as a great mother, a great daughter, a wonderful sister, and a loving friend.

But she also won’t forget the single act of violence she said she witnessed in the stairwell of the apartment complex in Colusa where both couples lived just days before Karen’s death.

“He was hitting her so close that he almost hit me,” Quintero said.

For more on this story, see the Williams Pioneer Review’s Aug. 14 edition.