Monterey County jail escapees captured trying to cross from Mexico back into US

Jonathan Salazar, left, and Santos Samuel Fonseca are back in custody after escaping from a Monterey County jail Sunday.
Jonathan Salazar, left, and Santos Samuel Fonseca are back in custody after escaping from a Monterey County jail Sunday.

The escaped inmates who broke out of their Monterey County jail dorm early Sunday and spent days on the run were captured midnight Wednesday by federal agents as they tried to cross back into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico.

“The news is they’ve been both found and both arrested,” Monterey County sheriff’s Capt. John Thornburg said at a late morning news conference Wednesday in Salinas aired live on KSBW-TV.

Santos Fonseca and Jonathan Salazar are now in the hands of Monterey County sheriff’s deputies who received the fugitives at the U.S.-Mexico border about 5 a.m. Wednesday for the drive back to Salinas, Thornburg said.

How Fonseca and Salazar got to Mexico remains a question for investigators.

“Everybody wants to know how they got from Salinas to Mexico,” Thornburg said. “We’re going to do everything we can to find that out.”

But Thornburg said Monterey County officials received information that the men were in Tijuana and passed that on to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

“Somebody called, they said, ‘I think I see them. I think they’re here.’ That’s the information we got,” Thornburg said. “The good news is that they’re here in custody again.”

The tip panned out.

When Fonseca and Salazar tried to walk back onto U.S. soil about midnight, customs agents were waiting for them, Thornburg said.

Fonseca, 21, and Salazar, 20, are members of rival Central Coast gangs held on murder charges in the unrelated gun killings of three Salinas men in 2017 and 2018, authorities said. They now will face escape charges when they return to Salinas, Thornburg said.

The two were awaiting trial in separate slayings when they cut their way out of jail through a restroom ceiling sometime early Sunday.

The two exploited a security camera’s blind spot at the dorm they shared with other inmates to hatch their escape, finding a crawlspace and finally a hatch that led them outside.

Jailers were unaware they had escaped until a Sunday morning head count. By then the two inmates were on the run, triggering a statewide manhunt.

Monterey County deputies thought they had one of their men, Salazar, earlier on Tuesday.

A “very credible report” led deputies to a Motel 6 in Marina, a town 10 miles west of Salinas, Thornburg said at the Wednesday news conference.

Law enforcement rushed to the motel before noon Tuesday and surrounded the inn for hours only to find Salazar wasn’t there.

“We had a person who thought she had seen Salazar. We got a warrant signed by a judge to go in and get him,” Thornburg said. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t there.”

Monterey County jail officials have already made plans for how and where the captured fugitives will be held once they return to jail. Not in the same dormitory, for one, Thornburg said. The two will be held in a different building and in separate units.

Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.