TULARE COUNTY – Two men were arrested for the death of a 20-year-old man whose body was found in a burned-out car in Lindsay on Friday. The mother of one of the suspects was also arrested for accessory to murder.
Around 12:45 p.m. on Sept. 14, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department received a call from a rancher who had discovered the burnt out remains of a vehicle with possible human remains inside on Ave 224 and Road 236, several miles southeast of Lindsay. On the scene, personnel with the sheriff’s department determined that the remains of a human male were inside the vehicle.
Earlier the same day, 20-year-old Michael Avalos of Lindsay was reported missing by his mother. She said that she found her son’s cell phone and some blood in the front yard of his residence.
Investigators with the sheriff’s department discovered that Avalos had last been seen with 23-year-old Joshua Stepp and 22-year-old Nathan Hunt next door at Hunt’s residence in the early hours of the morning. Investigators found blood in Hunt’s front yard.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department determined that the burned out vehicle was registered to Stepp. The body inside the car was later identified as Avalos.
The sheriff department’s investigation revealed that Avalos had been stabbed in front of Hunt’s residence. Avalos was then taken to the orchard where he and the car were set on fire.
Hunt was arrested at his home without incident and booked into the Tulare County Jail on charges of murder and accessory to murder after the fact.
Stepp was on the loose until early Sunday morning when he was arrested getting off an Amtrak train in Kansas City, MO by the U.S. Marshal’s Western District of Missouri Task Force. Stepp was turned over to the Kansas City Police Department and booked into the Jackson County Detention Facility where he is awaiting extradition to Tulare County, according to the sheriff’s department.
Investigators also arrested Stepp’s mother, 58-year-old Sandra Stepp, at her residence in Lindsay for accessory to murder after the fact and arson.
The stabbing appears to be gang-related, according to the sheriff’s department. Avalos was a former gang member, as is Joshua Stepp.
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