They were twin tigers of high school wrestling. Starting as freshmen, Roman and Ruslan Glukhoy of Antelope, twin sons of Ukrainian immigrants, dominated on the mats at Mira Loma High School. They shared all-conference wrestling honors as juniors. Roman won the section championship as a senior.
And yet their former coach David Landry said the brothers became strangely troubled after they were passengers in a van accident at a summer wrestling camp in 2011. He said afterward they appeared more drawn to partying than to the sport that was their passion.
On Wednesday, the two 19-year-olds were charged in the death of two innocent bystanders – a 35-year-old man and his 14-year-old daughter – after the brothers allegedly crashed a stolen pickup truck into an oncoming car in a particularly horrific morning incident.
When the 6:30 a.m. crash occurred, authorities said, the brothers were fleeing police in a high-speed chase that had reached speeds of 100 mph. It started after the former star wrestlers allegedly broke into a car in Auburn and then, after fleeing in their own vehicle, stopped to steal a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Authorities said they sped off, racing and driving recklessly westbound on Interstate 80 with Placer County sheriff’s vehicles in pursuit.
The end result was a fiery tragedy. The California Highway Patrol said the Glukhoy brothers exited on Antelope Road, briefly zooming out of sight of deputies on Antelope before smashing into a Kia Sephia that was attempting to turn left onto Antelope North Road. The driver of the Kia, Jose Luis Barriga-Tovar, and his 14-year-old daughter were killed instantly in a massive collision.
Landry got the news in a call from a reporter Wednesday afternoon.
“What an awful story,” he said. And the brothers’ former wrestling coach went on to say he wasn’t surprised.
Landry remembered Roman and Ruslan Glukhoy as “good little kids” who “lived to wrestle” and dreamed of someday being professional mixed martial arts fighters. He said Ruslan was “very strong, very fast” and Roman “was just as good, but with a different style, a little heavier and stronger.”
He said things changed after the boys, who attended Mira Loma as freshmen and were later home-schooled while continuing on the team, went to attend a summer wrestling camp in Squaw Valley before their junior year.
They were riding in a van with eight other youth wrestlers when the van driver veered into oncoming traffic on Highway 89, crashing head-on into a pickup truck. Afterward, Landry said, Roman Glukhoy was treated for fractured vertebrae and his brother for an injured knee. He said the behavior of the two brothers seemed to change after they were given prescription painkillers for their injuries.
“I think they changed,” Landry said. “At first they didn’t drink anything. Then they got into drinking. They were real good kids and athletes and then, after that accident, they weren’t in very good shape. They didn’t go to practice. They got a bad attitude.”
Landry said he worked closely with the boys’ parents, trying “everything to change them” as they mostly stopped doing schoolwork and “were more concerned with being with their friends and partying.” He said he banned them from wrestling until their behavior and academic performance improved. Yet, even as the brothers recovered from injuries and returned to winning ways in wrestling, Landry said they seldom showed up for practice their senior year.
“We tried as best as we could to teach them right from wrong,” he said. “But obviously it was a challenge.”
In 2013, Roman Glukhoy and two other individuals were charged with grand theft, possession of stolen property and criminal conspiracy in connection with burglaries of cash, watches and sunglasses from cars. The sunglasses were later listed for sale on Craigslist, according to a Roseville Press Tribune police log.
On Wednesday, the Glukhoy brothers were arrested following a search of the neighborhood after they jumped fences and ran through backyards near the Antelope crash site. Both were treated at area hospitals for minor injuries – Ruslan Glukhoy was admitted to Mercy San Juan Hospital for wounds suffered when he was bitten by a police dog. A Placer County sheriff’s deputy sustained a broken hand while arresting Roman Glukhoy.
The Glukhoy brothers were arrested on suspicion of homicide, among other crimes.
Authorities say the incident started in Auburn, where the brothers and an accomplice, Yuriy Merkushev, 21, allegedly burglarized a vehicle. Alex Merkushev said his brother, a companion of the Glukhoys, had not returned home Tuesday night, despite pleas from their mother to do so.
Alex Merkushev, who said his family had moved to Sacramento from Ukraine a decade ago, said his brother had always been a “home guy,” but in the last few weeks, he had started rebelliously hanging out with his friends. Yuriy Merkushev was arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property.
Auburn police tried to stop the three suspects, but said the officers were nearly run down by a BMW belonging to the twin brothers. Merkushev’s brother Alex said in an interview that the car had been a present to the Glukhoy brothers for their wrestling success.
Placer County sheriff’s spokeswoman Dena Erwin said police began pursuing the BMW as the suspects fled with little regard for where they were driving. “They were driving across lawns the whole time. Super erratic,” Erwin said.
Placer County sheriff’s deputies picked up the chase at Powerhouse and Newcastle roads in Newcastle. The suspects soon led authorities onto westbound Interstate 80, where they allegedly exceeded 100 mph, winding in and out of commuter traffic.
“They were going so fast we didn’t even have a chance to set up spike strips,” Erwin said.
The suspects then attempted to exit at Horseshoe Bar Road in Loomis, but they failed to navigate the offramp’s sharp loop and ditched the BMW. Merkushev bailed out when the brothers abandoned the BMW. He was arrested later in a Loomis parking lot.
Authorities say the Glukhoy brothers entered a garage and stole the keys of an F-150 pickup, then zoomed back onto westbound Interstate 80 with Placer deputies, eventually joined by Rocklin police, CHP and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, in pursuit.
Antelope resident Diane Meyers said she was at an intersection on Antelope Road with her two grandchildren in the car, preparing to make a U-turn, when she saw police cars with lights and sirens approaching. Meyers said she learned of the crash a short time later, and realized how close she and her grandchildren came to being victims.
“You thank God it wasn’t you, but then you feel bad for the victims … It’s been on my mind the whole day,” Meyers said.
The tragedy is now seared into Landry’s thoughts. The former wrestling coach had kept up with the Glukhoy brothers on Facebook, where Ruslan Glukhoy’s page included posts on relocating to San Jose to train as a mixed martial arts fighter.
Landry had posted an encouragement there: “Let me know when you get your first match. You have what it takes, just need to do your homework. Lots of conditioning, my friend.”
On Wednesday, the coach was left reflecting on what happened.
“The message is that these kids at one time were good kids,” he said, though their alleged actions were “horrible.”
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539. Bee staff writer Cathy Locke and Bee researcher Pete Basofin contributed to this report.