The suspects in the police pursuit and car crash that killed a father and his teen daughter Wednesday have a history of petty theft and breaking into cars, the same crimes that authorities say started the tragic 100-mph chase, court records show.
In addition, one of the 19-year-old twin brothers who allegedly was in the stolen pickup truck that rammed the victims’ car has a speeding violation as well as a citation for failure to appear, according to California Department of Motor Vehicle records.
The brothers, Ruslan and Roman Glukhoy, each face murder charges in the deaths of Jose Luis Barriga-Tovar, 35, and his 14-year-old daughter, Anahi, who died when their white Kia was smashed by the pickup truck the brothers allegedly stole and used to elude Placer County sheriff’s deputies.
Several hundred friends and family of the father and daughter gathered Friday night in Kaseberg Park in Roseville to remember them in a gathering organized by students and administrators at Cooley Middle School, where Anahi was a student. Participants lit electronic candles and signed their names to banners hung between trees. Jesse Garcia, 14, one of the student organizers, said Anahi “always had open arms. If you were having a bad day, she was able to cheer you up.”
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The twin defendants made their first court appearance Friday afternoon in a packed Placer County courtroom at the jail in Auburn.
Appearing alongside them was a friend, Yuriy Merkushev, 21, who bailed out of the chase midway after the twins crashed their BMW in Loomis, authorities said. He faces charges of resisting arrest and possession of stolen property.
The three looked dazed and expressed no emotion. The twins were wearing green suicide watch jackets, and Roman Glukhoy, who initially indicated he would participate in media interviews, was prevented from doing so because he is now on suicide watch.
Roman Glukhoy briefly made eye contact in court with his mother and eight friends who came to show support.
The three defendants spoke only to acknowledge their names to Placer Superior Court Judge Mark Curry, and as the charges against them were read, the twins’ mother wept.
None of them entered a plea. They were appointed public defenders and ordered to return to court Wednesday.
The brothers are being held without bail; Merkushev had his bail increased to $50,000 from $15,000.
The Glukhoy brothers face the most serious counts because authorities say they were in the truck that killed the victims.
“They are charged with two open counts of murder, which means the jury will ultimately affix the degree of murder, whether it’s first or second,” Dave Tellman, a supervising deputy district attorney for Placer County, told reporters after the court session.
Before the hearing, Amira Matin, Roman Glukhoy’s former girlfriend, sat down in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. Speaking on behalf of the Glukhoy family, Matin said the twins love life, describing them as “good-natured and sweet.”
“They put their heart and soul into anything they did,” she said. “I don’t think they could ever see this happening. Sitting in that jail cell, I’m sure they’re not happy with themselves. Roman and Ruslan would never have wanted anyone to be hurt.”
Matin suggested sheriff’s deputies were at fault for continuing the high-speed chase. “It was police brutality,” Matin said, adding that the family is considering a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office. “Just call off the chase and get a helicopter. You had the BMW. You knew their names.”
The Sheriff’s Office has declined to comment on that criticism but said the pursuit is being investigated internally as is routine. A lawyer for the widow whose husband and daughter were killed in the crash has also indicated a lawsuit against the sheriff may be in the works.
Authorities said the chase began after the twins, former wrestling stars at Mira Loma High School, and their friend Merkushev committed a burglary in Auburn. The brothers’ BMW crashed in Loomis during the chase and Merkushev bailed out, authorities said.
The twins then stole a pickup truck and led officers on a 100-mph chase that ended at 6:30 a.m. when they crashed into the white Kia and killed the father and daughter, authorities say.
Tellman said the penalty for murder could range from 15-years-to-life to 25-to-life depending on the degree charged. He declined to say who was driving the stolen pickup when it crashed into Kia.
DMV records show Roman Glukhoy was cited for speeding on Oct. 17, 2012, and that he faced a charge of failure to appear in Sacramento Superior Court 11 months later.
Authorities in Placer County were familiar with the three suspects before Wednesday’s crash, court documents indicate.
Roseville police questioned the three and Merkushev’s brother in connection with a series of car break-ins in November 2012.
A Roseville police officer stopped Ruslan Glukhoy and Merkushev at 2:42 a.m. at Stonebridge Way and Oak Ridge Drive after he saw them walking wearing black hoodies and carrying backpacks, attire the officer described in a report as “burglars uniforms.”
The two said they were on their way to visit a friend but could not provide the name of the friend, the report states. The officer walked back to a BMW belonging to the brothers and looked inside to see Ruslan Glukhoy and Merkushev’s brother sleeping.
After receiving permission to search the vehicle, the police found GPS devices, a gaming console, a DVD player and other items that Ruslan Glukhoy admitted to stealing from cars in the area, the report states.
Ruslan Glukhoy eventually led police back to the vehicles he had burglarized and told police “that he was a heroin addict and that he stole to support his habit,” according to the report.
Roman Glukhoy later was arrested in May 2013 and was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of stolen watches, wallets and sunglasses, court documents indicate.
Matin, the spokeswoman for the Glukhoys, said the family is also mourning for the two victims. Roughly a decade ago, the Glukhoys moved from Ukraine in search of a better life, she said. The boys, who were home-schooled much of the time, showed a knack for wrestling and dreamed one day of becoming professional MMA fighters.
“You could see it in their eyes. They had this fire to win and be the best,” Matin said.
She said the day before the crash, Roman sat on the couch and told his mother he was going to move out of Sacramento and change his life.
Like most law enforcement agencies, the Placer County sheriff has a written policy governing how deputies are to initiate, conduct and break off pursuits of fleeing suspects.
The Placer County policy, adopted Oct. 1, 2008, is outlined over nine pages that spell out how high-speed pursuits are to be handled. It includes the requirement that pursuits be limited to two patrol units and a supervisor “unless more assistance is specifically requested.”
The policy requires deputies to consider several factors before beginning a chase, including whether the suspect may be caught later without posing a threat to the public, the nature of the suspected offenses and the time of day.
The decision to launch a pursuit lies with the deputy, but if a pursuit is started the deputy must immediately notify dispatch with information on the location, direction and speed of the chase, as well as a vehicle description and reason for pursuing the suspects.
Erwin, the sheriff’s spokeswoman, said all pursuits are reviewed internally to ensure they follow department requirements and that in Wednesday’s incident “interviews started (Thursday), everyone’s interviewed individually.”
Erwin added that Wednesday’s pursuit involved two deputies in patrol units and a sergeant, and that no other agencies were involved. The department seeks to conclude its internal investigations as quickly as possible, but Erwin said there is no deadline to do so.
There were 45 fatalities in California in 2011 stemming from police pursuits, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than any other state.
The next highest number for 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, was 37 in Texas. Nationwide, 303 people were killed, including three in police vehicles.
A breakdown of the deaths in California show 27 were occupants of the vehicle being chased; 17 were occupants of other vehicles, as in Wednesday’s crash; and one was a fatality not in a vehicle.
Since 2000, the number of fatalities in the state has ranged from 52 in 2001 to 30 in 2004.
High-speed pursuits have stirred controversy for years and spawned the formation in 2007 of a Chico-based nonprofit organization aimed at reducing deaths and injuries from police chases.
PursuitSafety, which maintains a website at www.pursuitsafety.org, estimates that drivers fleeing from police kill an average of one person a day nationally and injure more than 150 bystanders annually.