A Modesto man on a work crew in Petaluma, about 120 miles from his home, attacked a co-worker, stole a car, and then fled to the Humboldt County town of Weott, another 320 miles north along Highway 101 through the coastal mountains and forests.
On Tuesday morning, April 15, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office got a call reporting an attack at a ranch in Petaluma on Bailey Avenue. A man there had been repairing chicken coops when another worker, identified as 20-year-old Juan Luis Ayala, reportedly attacked him with a hammer. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Ayala hit the man in the face, knocking him unconscious. Witnesses reported that he continued the attack while the victim was on the ground. Two other men on the work crew, seeing the attack, rushed to the scene and tackled Ayala. They tried to hold him there while law enforcement was called, but Ayala fought them off and ran away.
Sheriff’s Deputies arrived on the scene and summoned an ambulance as well. When the victim regained consciousness, he told them that he had no idea why he was attacked. He had several injuries to his face and head, and was taken by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for treatment.
Sheriff’s deputies, Petaluma Police officers, and Highway Patrol units all began a search of the area. At 11:40 am, forty minutes after the initial call, a Petaluma PD officer was flagged down by a citizen to report that their car had just been stolen. From the description, it was evident that Ayala had stolen the black 2000 Ford Echo and escaped the area. Ayala was headed north on Highway 101 to the town of Weott in Humboldt County.
Weott is a small town of less than 300 residents located along Highway 101 and the Avenue of the Giants next to the South Fork of the Eel River amid the redwood forests of Northern California. Apart from the Post Office, volunteer fire department and a pair of churches, the town is all homes. Ayala’s aunt is one of the residents of the town, and he showed up at her home along the Avenue of the Giants Highway.
He had left the vehicle he had stolen 11 miles south of Weott, at South Fork High School in Miranda, and apparently walked the rest of the way to his aunt’s home. According to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, Ayala told his aunt about what had happened in Petaluma, and that he was a wanted man. She convinced him to surrender to the authorities, and at 9:30 that night, she called the Sheriff’s office. She told them about Ayala and that she didn’t want him at her house, and that he would surrender to them peacefully. Deputies and Highway Patrol officers responded to the home and met her outside, entered the home, and took him into custody without incident.
Juan Luis Ayala was booked at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility in Eureka by 11:30 pm. His bail was set at $500,000, and he is pending transfer to Sonoma County, where he will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, vehicle theft, and possession of stolen property. The Violent Crimes units is conducting the investigation.
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