VENTURA (CBSLA) — Runners and walkers Tuesday crowded the bike path that sits behind the Ventura County Fairgrounds right next to the beach.
But not far away, officers with the Ventura Police Department said they were investigating a sexual assault and homicide.
“It’s just scary, because we usually walk down this trail a lot,” Brenda Santana, a walker, said.
Santana and her mom, Maria, said they were shocked to hear the news.
“It’s just very disappointing,” Bianca Macias, another walker, said. “As a young woman myself, we always have to be aware of our surroundings, unfortunately.”
Police said a woman was walking her dog toward Emma Wood State Beach May 5 when a man who had been following the woman sexually assaulted her.
But when the woman yelled out for help, officers said three or four individuals, who might have lived in a river bottom homeless camp, went to help. And officers said they might have gone too far to protect the woman.
The sexual assault suspect, identified as 31-year-old Jose Mendez, was found beaten and unconscious. Mendez died from his injuries Monday.
“People do take things into their own hands,” Cmdr. Tom Higgins, of Ventura PD, said. “But, in doing that, some people can commit a crime and so that is what we don’t want.”
Police said they have spoken to several people involved in the incident. And though no arrests have been made, those responsible could still face serious charges.
“We’re actively investigating as a homicide,” Higgins said. “So those individuals could be subjected to arrest for murder.”
And back on the bike path, women said the assault and homicide were terrible reminders to pay attention to their surroundings.
“Honestly, I don’t think I stay as safe as I should, which is a bit naive,” Macias said.
Ventura police said they were working with California Park Police.