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Man Fatally Stabbed in Parking Lot Argument
By GEOFF BOUCHER, TIMES STAFF WRITERS and BONNIE HAYES, TIMES STAFF WRITERS
November 14, 1997
SAN CLEMENTE — A confrontation in a supermarket parking lot turned deadly Wednesday night as stunned patrons watched four suspected gang members swarm and stab a couple, leaving a 28-year-old local man dead and his girlfriend wounded.
Michael A. Wasney of San Clemente was stabbed twice in the chest and died in the parking lot of the Albertsons supermarket at 602 N. El Camino Real. His 27-year-old girlfriend, whose name was withheld, was treated for slash wounds to her hand, according to authorities.
A lone arrest was made in the case early Thursday. Stephany Castro, 19, of San Clemente was being held on suspicion of murder, and investigators were searching for three male suspects described by witnesses, said Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Ron Wilkerson.
The injured girlfriend, speaking Thursday through her mother, said she and Wasney were driving out of the parking lot about 10 p.m. when a group of people walked in front of their Volvo station wagon. As the couple drove off, they heard angry shouts behind them. But they didn't stop until something crashed through the car's rear window.
The couple got out--and were immediately jumped by the knife-wielding attackers, Wilkerson said. The three males clustered around Wasney, beating and stabbing him, and a female closed in on his girlfriend, according to witnesses and police.
"They just started attacking them right away," the victim's mother said during a telephone interview, as her daughter, a hairdresser, could be heard sobbing in the background. "They were screaming at them about something, she doesn't know what. It was awful."
Wasney, who worked at another supermarket, tried to fight back but was outnumbered and overwhelmed. "He didn't have a chance against them," the girlfriend's mother said.
Wasney's girlfriend "is pretty strong and fought off" her attacker, but was "cut up and beat up pretty bad" during the incident, said her mother, who asked not be identified.
Wasney, mortally wounded, walked toward the store for help but collapsed as he asked employees to call authorities, said another witness.
The victim's mother said neither her daughter nor Wasney knew their attackers, nor could they name a possible motive.
"She has no idea what they did wrong," her mother said. "She has no idea what they were so angry about. . . . Maybe they didn't stop [the car] fast enough when these people walked in front of them. Who knows? It's all senseless."
Investigators were working to sort out the events that spurred the attack.
"We're trying to figure out exactly why this happened," Wilkerson said. "Right now, it appears these people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's scary. . . . It appears it could have happened to anyone."
Wilkerson said Castro, who is suspected of having ties to a street gang, was being questioned throughout the day Thusday about her suspected involvement in the incident, and it was not clear if more arrests were imminent.
The manager of the Albertsons declined to comment, but employees described the victims as frequent customers.
Customers said the incident seemed to be the kind that can happen anywhere in Southern California.
"It makes you more aware and it makes you think twice," said Ryan Bumgardner, 23, as he loaded groceries into his car.
Yet homicides are relatively rare in San Clemente, and Wednesday's incident, if found to be gang-related, would be the city's first this year. The area where the attack took place is not noted for gang activity, Wilkerson said.
Wasney's wounded girlfriend pleaded for anyone with information about the incident to step forward.
"I just want anybody who knows them to turn them in," she could be heard to say to her mother during the phone interview.