Mourners for Sargent Damon Gutzwiller.

Mourners for Sargent Damon Gutzwiller.

Noah Jones was going home.  The afternoon of Saturday, June 6th was a regular work day for the Ben Lomond resident, but the typical quiet of his office was jarred by the never ending scream of sirens as law enforcement officers from around the county hurtled through Scotts Valley, en route to a call for assistance from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department. Jones, 26, a Berkeley grad who teaches kids to code, had moved back to the San Lorenzo Valley just a few weeks earlier in an attempt to escape the COVID-19 outbreak in Virginia. Jones’ parents had moved to Ben Lomond in 2007 following the Virginia Tech shooting in April of that year. Both of them were professors at the school, but the massacre on campus that left 32 people dead and 17 wounded left them shattered, so they sought—and found—solace in the mountains of Ben Lomond. Mary, Noah’s mom, was sure that the peace and quiet, the neighborly vibe and comfort that came from the community, was exactly what they needed. So she was stunned to receive a cryptic message from her son on Saturday afternoon. The text included the words “carjacked” and “man with gun,” but ended with the reassurance that Noah was fine.

 

Mary and her husband had been preparing to drive to Scotts Valley to check on Noah. Minutes earlier, they had been under the impression that whatever was summoning such a huge response from law enforcement must have been happening in Scotts Valley, and they wanted to make sure he was safe; after all, things like this don’t happen in small towns. But once she and her husband crested the hill on their country road in Ben Lomond, they saw Noah sitting on the side of the road, looking stunned but unhurt.

 

Noah had left work early to escape whatever the police were responding to, and when he turned onto his home’s dirt road off of Highway 9, he had only driven a short way when a man approached him. Noah thought perhaps the man was warning him of a problem ahead, or offering assistance of some kind—country neighbors do that. But when the man approached the car, he told Noah he needed the vehicle, and then he put one hand on the car and tried to open the door. That’s when Noah saw the blood…and the AR-15 style rifle. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I need this car,” said the carjacker, Steven Carrillo, and Noah understood the implication in those words. Noah had the presence to ask if he could gather his items from his 2000 Toyota Camry, and Carrillo let him collect his backpack and phone before absconding with the vehicle.

 

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Ashlie Rayne doesn’t remember anything odd about Carrillo. They both attended San Lorenzo Valley High School, with Carrillo graduating in 2006. “He kind of kept to himself for the most part,” Rayne said. He spent a lot of time with his then-girlfriend, (now late wife, Monika) and Rayne recalled how they seemed like “the perfect couple. Away from everyone else, though, Monika would call friends and talk about how he mentally abused her. She would be hanging out at a friend’s house,” Rayne said, “and he would show up, call her names and embarrass her to the point she would leave with him.” Rayne worked with Carrillo at the Round Table in Felton when she was 15 or 16 years old. “He was a fun person to work with,” Rayne said. “He seemed normal, so where the turning point of really becoming a monster was, I’m not really sure.” Monika Carrillo, who served in the U.S. Air Force with her husband, Steven, died in 2018. Though Steven Carrillo wasn’t charged in Monika’s death—she committed suicide— her family maintains that he was a factor in it, referencing his “narcissistic and domineering” attitude towards his wife in an interview with the Mercury News.

 

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Richard Robinson has been a Ben Lomond resident since 1994. He and his wife, Susan, raised two daughters who both attended SLV schools. In 25 years, Robinson noted, this was his first vigil for a downed officer. Robinson and 100-120 neighbors gathered at Ben Lomond Park on Mill Street on Sunday evening to pay their respects and hold space for Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller, 38, who was killed by Carrillo. At the park, Robinson looked for a point person, but didn’t spot one. “It seemed to be more like a memorial where people were taking turns saying what needed to be said.” Robinson said about seven people addressed the crowd, but no one who spoke identified themselves as being a first responder of any kind. Asking Robinson what he felt he took from that experience, he replied, “My fellow Ben Lomondians had come together to mark an important passing, and maybe to find some comfort in seeing each other at the vigil, and to try to remind each other of some important lessons that are easily forgotten—to take care of each other, and remember that there are people putting themselves at risk every day for the good of the community.” The first man to speak at the Mill Street vigil said something that struck Robinson: “If you think that dropping off a card at the sheriff’s office will be meaningless, please don’t think that.” The speaker recalled that a woman from Minnesota that he’d never met had made him a quilt to commemorate a personal loss, and he still has that quilt. Robinson said his own daughters will make a card to drop off, and that he struggles with what to say in the card. “We have so few things that have impacted the community so broadly—we’re just a small little rural community, and we’re lucky that we don’t have a lot of tragic events that affect us all. This one’s hitting us all,” said Robinson.

 

***

 

Well over 1,000 mourners gathered in the parking lot of the Sheriff’s Station on Soquel Avenue in Live Oak on Sunday to honor and remember Gutzwiller, a 14-year veteran of the department. “He never had a bad day, even when he was due one,” said Steve Ryan from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office. “He was better than most of us.” There were prayers from clergy, statements from Sheriff Jim Hart, and remembrances from team members who worked closely with Gutzwiller. “His work did not go unnoticed, and this world is a better place for it,” said Sergeant John Habermehl. In his career, Gutzwiller never received a single civilian complaint. “Damon was a hero,” said Habermehl, “and he’s someone we’re never going to forget.” In a news conference on Monday afternoon, Sheriff Hart announced that a second sheriff’s deputy had been shot in the chest during the ambush by Carrillo; “his vest was able to stop the bullet, but he suffered some significant internal trauma and shrapnel wounds from a bomb that was set off, and was struck by the suspect’s car as Carrillo fled the scene.” Hart said he and his department were grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and beyond. “In this era of negativity about law enforcement, it’s been a real godsend to see what our community really thinks about us here in Santa Cruz County.” Hart shared that he had received hundreds of emails, phone calls and messages sharing support and offering assistance to the department. “They are a quiet majority,” Hart said. “You don’t hear them often, but there is a ton of support for the sheriff’s office and local law enforcement.”

 

That support was also on display on Sunday evening in Boulder Creek as about 40 mourners assembled in front of the sheriff’s substation on Central Avenue. Residents brought flowers, lit candles, and signed a memorial board featuring Gutwiller’s photo. And, as if on cue, the group threw back their heads at 8pm, and howled for Damon.

 

                                            *** 

Residents are invited to show their support for those affected by this tragedy.

•   The Peace Officers Research Association of California has established a “Fund a Hero” collection online for Sergeant Gutzwiller’s family. Donations may be made online at https://porac.org/fundraiser/line-of-duty-death-damon-gutzwiller-eow-6-6-2020/

•   Noah Jones only had liability insurance on his Camry, and the car was declared a total loss. Plus, it’s now evidence in an investigation by the FBI, so it’s not coming back. There is a GoFundMe set up to help Noah raise money to replace the vehicle: donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/f/noah039s-work-transportation

•   Donate in Sergeant Gutzwiller’s memory to any law enforcement agency or social service network that provides support to public servants.

 

Part Two of this story will be in the June 19th issue of the PB.

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