Five UCSB students were held captive at gunpoint in their Del Playa Drive apartment by three armed suspects early Thursday morning, followed by a high-speed chase that ended in the capture of two of the suspects but left one still at large.
Two of the three suspects entered the residence, located on the 6500 block of DP, at approximately 12 a.m. while the third waited in the car. One suspect, who was armed with a rifle and has not yet been caught by police, forced the five victims to the ground, injuring three of them, while the other suspect, later identified as 23-year-old Marcus Darrell Veal, rummaged through the house looking for valuables. Victims said Veal and the other suspect fled the scene in a white Toyota Corolla approximately 10 minutes later.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. spokesman Chris Pappas said a Goleta deputy who was notified of the incident spotted the vehicle heading northbound on Highway 217, away from the UCSB campus. Pappas said a high-speed pursuit ensued when the driver of the vehicle, later identified as 25-year-old Benjamin Jacob Christy, refused to pull over and attempted to flee from police.
Pappas said the suspects continued onto Highway 101 and along Goleta side streets — driving recklessly and reaching dangerously high speeds of up to 80 miles per hour on city streets — before abandoning the car in Santa Barbara.
The three suspects then fled the scene on foot, Pappas said, at which point police apprehended two of the men and discovered a loaded rifle within the vehicle they had deserted.
The third suspect, who managed to evade police capture after the chase ended, was the one who allegedly held the victims at gunpoint and assaulted them.
One of the hostages sustained an injury to the back of his head when he was struck with the butt of the rifle and another hostage, hit in the right temple with the barrel of the gun, also suffered minor injuries. The third victim, who was forced to the ground, suffered severe head injuries, a chipped front tooth and a split lip when one of the suspects used his foot to smash the man’s face into the ground.
The victims said the suspects were looking for a particular housemate who was not at the scene during the time of the incident. The suspects repeatedly demanded to know where the missing housemate was and proceeded to assault the residents when they refused to answer.
“I looked up at the gun and then looked down at the ground while [the suspect] was yelling at us,” one of the victims said. “All I remember is looking at what kind of shoes or jeans he had on to be able to give the cops some kind of description. I just wanted to do what they said, let them have what they wanted and then get them the hell out of there.”
One of the residents, who is an ex-Marine, managed to escape from the hostage-takers through a back door.
“I just kept talking to the guy so I could buy time to get to the back of the house, get out, call the cops and save these guys’ lives,” he said.
The man said his extensive training and six years of military service helped him stay calm in the potentially lethal situation.
“If people are getting held at gunpoint, we learned how to handle the situation calmly,” the man said. “I just locked myself into my previous training.”
After escaping, the man said he saw Christy waiting in the getaway vehicle, and proceeded to attack him in retaliation before going to summon help.
“I beat the shit out of him and then went to another apartment to use their phone,” he said.
Michelle Levy, a senior film studies major who lives in the bedroom above the room where the incident occurred, said she heard yelling and banging during the incident.
“The door shut really loudly, and I looked outside my window and I saw the guys running off,” Levy said. “They were wearing hoods and big jackets, so I couldn’t tell what they looked like, but I did see one of them carrying a rifle.”
Isla Vista Foot Patrol deputies and an ambulance arrived at the scene shortly after the escaped victim’s emergency call was received. The three injured victims were given medical treatment and released within a few hours.
The victims said they did not know the suspects or what they wanted. They said they asked the housemate why the suspects had been looking for him and why they had attacked the other housemates.
“He didn’t understand what was going on either, and we kind of believe him,” one of the victims said.
The five victims were taken to the Santa Barbara County Jail early Thursday morning to identify the two captured suspects, where they said they recognized Christy as the getaway driver and Veal as the man who entered the apartment with the armed third suspect.
Christy was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail on charges of armed robbery, conspiracy and recklessly evading a police officer, and Veal was charged with aggravated kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, conspiracy and assault with a deadly weapon. Christy’s bail has been set at $50,000, and Veal, who participated in taking the hostages, will be held on $500,000 bail.
Pappas said the investigation into the incident is ongoing, and he said police are working hard to locate and apprehend the suspect who escaped.
“We are continuing to aggressively pursue the whereabouts of the outstanding suspect,” Pappas said. “We are putting substantial resources to bring this individual into custody.”
Victims described the third suspect as a 6’2″, 170-pound, half-white, half-black man in his early 20s with curly brown hair and a thin build.