A grainy surveillance video of French train hero Spencer Stone being stabbed last month in a Sacramento street brawl has been broadcast thousands of times around the globe.
For almost a month, viewers could only wonder about the identity of the smaller dark-haired man who repeatedly slammed a knife into Stone’s back and torso as large red blood spots blossomed on his white shirt.
Sacramento police said Wednesday they believe the man in the video is James Tran, 28, of Sacramento County, whom they had taken into custody.
“This morning, slightly before 7 a.m., our detectives, who had been doing surveillance at (Tran’s) particular residence, effected a traffic stop on him in the area of Highway 99 and Bond Road (in Elk Grove) and then arrested him for the charge of attempt murder on Mr. Stone,” police Chief Samuel Somers Jr. said in a midday news conference at police headquarters on Freeport Boulevard.
Somers said police had impounded a dark-colored Toyota Camry, believed to be used as a getaway vehicle, that was photographed by a pole-mounted police camera in midtown.
Tran is being held at Sacramento County Main Jail and is ineligible for bail because of the seriousness of his alleged crime, jail records show. He is scheduled to appear in Sacramento Superior Court on Friday.
Tran has a prior criminal record. He pleaded no contest in 2008 to possession of a controlled substance for sale. Prosecutors asked the court to dismiss six other felony drug and weapons charges against him, including possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a loaded firearm. He was sentenced to a year on work furlough and five years’ probation.
Somers said detectives had spent time building a case, piece by piece, against Tran before arresting him. Following his arrest Wednesday morning, they executed a search warrant on a tan one-story stucco house in the 7800 block of Dersingham Drive, the police chief said. The suburban street is in the unincorporated Vintage Park area near Elk Grove.
Several neighbors shown Tran’s photograph said they had never seen him in the neighborhood. A quiet Vietnamese family lives in the house, a next-door neighbor said.
Public records list an address for Tran on a cul-de-sac in Elk Grove.
The man who answered the phone at that address said he is the suspect’s uncle.
Michael Tran, 62, said his nephew was a good boy who had recently been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Speaking in Mandarin, the uncle expressed disbelief at the arrest after learning about it from a reporter.
“I can’t control him. That’s how it is with American children,” Tran said. “He’s nearly 30 years old, and if he’s not mature enough, that’s going to be a problem.”
Asked about the drug charges, Tran said his nephew was taken advantage of by other people.
The uncle said James Tran graduated high school, moved out of the house years ago and most recently worked as a waiter at a Japanese restaurant. James Tran’s father died several years ago, and the young man never communicated with his mother, who lives in China and had divorced his father, the uncle said.
James Tran was born to Vietnamese-Chinese immigrants in New York, according to the uncle and public records.
Michael Tran said his nephew would not have started a fight and suggested that something must have transpired between the two parties to provoke him into violence.
“It’s about loyalty to your brothers,” Tran said. “You help me; I help you. They were trying to protect each other.”
Stone was stabbed four times during a fight at 12:45 a.m. Oct. 8 at 21st and K streets. He was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center, where he underwent surgery for injuries the police described as life-threatening. The wounds were so serious that detectives immediately treated it as a potential homicide investigation, Somers said.
Somers said two groups got into an argument outside a row of nightclubs on K Street after someone in James Tran’s party videotaped a woman in Stone’s group. Words were exchanged, then the acrimony died down, the chief said.
“Subsequent to that, Mr. Tran re-engaged Mr. Stone, and it escalated from there into a physical fight,” Somers said at the news conference.
Surveillance video from a liquor store showed Stone fighting assailants as one man, who police say was Tran, circled behind Stone and stabbed him repeatedly.
The other combatants were being treated as witnesses for now, Somers said. No other arrests had been made.
Though he participated in the fight, Stone is being treated only as a victim, Somers said.
Police spokeswoman Officer Traci Trapani said it’s “yet to be determined” who threw the first punch.
During the midtown stabbing, Stone suffered a punctured heart, liver and lung and later had open-heart surgery. He spent about a week in the hospital.
The Air Force promoted Stone, 23, from airman first class to staff sergeant during a ceremony at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, citing his “heroic actions” in the French train incident.
Stone and two childhood friends from Sacramento became instant celebrities in August when they tackled and disarmed a gunman on a French train. The three Americans were awarded France’s Legion of Honor and met with President Barack Obama at the White House in September.
Stone’s mother, Joyce Eskel, said she was pleased with the investigation results so far.
“The police have been unbelievable,” Eskel said. “We are very happy the police worked as hard as they did.”
Bee staff writers Bill Lindelof and Ed Fletcher contributed to this report.