RIDGECREST, Calif. — Sergio Munoz was known around this small desert city to acquaintances as a personable dad, and to police for his long rap sheet.
In recent weeks, he began losing the moorings that kept him stable — his job, then his family. Kicked out of the house, he stayed at a friend’s place, using and dealing heroin.
Life fully unraveled when Munoz, with two hostages in his trunk, led officers on a wild chase Friday after killing a woman and injuring his crash-pad friend, who had refused to join what Munoz planned would be a final rampage against police and “snitches.”
Munoz knew the authorities well enough that after the initial, pre-dawn slaying he called one patrol officer’s cellphone and announced that he wanted to kill all police in town but because he would be outgunned at the station he would instead “wreak havoc” elsewhere.
He kept his word, first firing at pedestrians in Ridgecrest, according to police, and taking shots at passing motorists and trying to run oncoming cars off the road during a chase along 30 miles of desert highway.
In the end, Munoz pulled over on U.S. 395, turned in his seat and began shooting into the trunk — which had popped open earlier in the pursuit to reveal a man and woman inside.
As many as seven officers opened fire and killed him. The hostages were flown to a hospital in critical condition, but were expected to survive. Their names have not been released and police have not said anything about their relationship to Munoz.
In the neighborhood where the first shooting happened, people described Munoz as an affable man who would stop to chat and showed no signs of inner turmoil.
“He didn’t show any anger,” said Edgar Martinez, who would see Munoz at a nearby gym and cleaned his house several years ago.
Others described him as respectful and humble.
But recently, his life began to crumble.
Last Sunday, he was arrested again — police found ammunition and a syringe at the house where the slaying would happen five days later.
After making bail, he returned to the house where he had been staying.
During the week, a neighbor heard Munoz bemoaning his life, saying he was losing everything due to drugs.
“He was a cool guy,” said the neighbor, Derrick Holland. “He was just losing his mind.”
Munoz’s estranged wife, Sandra Leiva, said that they separated because she finally had enough of the bad choices he was making.
“Tough love and drugs, that’s what brought him down,” Leiva said.
On Saturday morning, Munoz’s 15-year-old daughter, Viviana, reflected on her father’s life in a Facebook post.
“Your such a great dad when you were not on drugs...I remember how you used always try and teach us how to dance all crazy with your chicken legs haha,” she wrote. “You were a good father and person, you just made a sad choice.”