Maria Mendoza murder suspect captured in Mexico

Maria Mendoza / Damian De Los Santos (images: Desert Sun / RCSD)
Maria Mendoza / Damian De Los Santos (images: Desert Sun / RCSD)
Maria Mendoza / Damian De Los Santos (images: Desert Sun / RCSD)

Damian De Los Santos, who allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend on the 10 freeway in a high-speed drive-by shooting, was apprehended in Mexico on Thursday.

De Los Santos, 22, of Cathedral City, was arrested in Mexicali, reports the Desert Sun.

Maria Guadalupe Mendoza was shot in the chest with a .44 Magnum revolver on Sunday.   She survived long enough to identify the shooter to police.

Police arrested the man who allegedly drove the vehicle during the chase, Andrew Castro the same day – then turned their attention to catching De Los Santos.

The Desert Sun recounts the timeline of the tragedy:

The events that led to Mendoza’s death began Sunday afternoon, when she called her current boyfriend asking to be picked up from the AM PM store at Date Palm and Vista Chino in Cathedral City. The boyfriend is a critical witness in the case, so his name has been redacted from court documents released by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. The document is a sworn declaration by sheriff’s investigator Steven Paixao from the Central Homicide Unit.

When the boyfriend arrived at the store, he saw Mendoza standing in the parking lot with a man he did not know. The man flashed a revolver and threatened to kill the boyfriend, then another man tried to climb into the passenger side of the boyfriend’s car. The boyfriend sped away from the two men. Mendoza then ran to his car and jumped inside. They fled onto Interstate 10 and drove east.

Soon after, somewhere between Bob Hope Drive and Monterey, the two men caught up to them, driving a silver Honda Civic. The man with the gun, who was later identified as De Los Santos, fired a shot at the fleeing car but missed. The boyfriend attempted to outrun the Honda, but the two men eventually caught up to the fleeing car again.

A second shot went through Mendoza and hit her boyfriend, court documents state.

“The Honda then maneuvered to the passenger side of the (boyfriend’s) vehicle and Damian fired another shot which penetrated the passenger door, entered the side of Mendoza’s body, exited Mendoza’s body and struck (the boyfriend,)” court documents state.

The two men in the Honda continued to follow and fired at least one more shot before exiting at Washington.  The boyfriend called 911 and was told to go to the CHP station in Indio – where Mendoza was given medical attention and identified the shooter as “Damian”.

A short time after the shooting, a Facebook message from De Los Santos was sent to the boyfriend threatening to shoot him.

Castro was arrested when The Honda was spotted in Cathedral City.  According to court documents, Castro confirmed to police that he was the driver during the deadly car chase.  Police also found a revolver in the vehicle.   He was charged with murder with a enhancement of discharging a firearm from a vehicle, attempted murder and shooting at a vehicle.

“All I can say is that she was always happy, always had a smile and was always positive,”Rosa Corona, a counselor at Menoza’s school told The Desert Sun. “And she didn’t give up on her schooling.