Fallbrook Giovanni Cornejo had his head under the hood of a car when he first heard the commotion. He looked up and saw a woman at the Shell station across the street trying to hold a man upright.
“I heard a frantic screaming,” he says.
“The guy was falling down. She was trying to hold him up on his feet.” At first Cornejo thought it was a prank, especially since no one at the busy station was helping the frantic woman. She ran toward people pumping gas. She “sounded angry” as she yelled for help, Cornejo says.
Cornejo called to his fiancée, Celine Weiler, who was inside the office of his used-car lot. Weiler came outside. The man had slumped to the ground, and the woman was slapping his face. Cornejo still judged the situation to be a prank, or maybe the man was drunk or had had a seizure.
But Weiler did not hesitate. She ran across Mission Road.
“Can you help me?” the frantic woman asked. The woman was trying to put the unconscious man into a Jeep. “He was just completely limp,” Weiler says. “She was trying to pick him up. I think she was in shock. I asked her what happened. She said, ‘He’s been stabbed.’
“He was lying on the ground by his SUV. His T-shirt was totally blood-stained. I knelt down beside him and put both hands on the wound.” Weiler says she took a sweatshirt lying next to the man, wadded it up, and applied pressure to his blood-soaked chest.
But Weiler says she saw “both eyes rolled back in his head,” and she could hear gurgling sounds, as though he couldn’t breathe. “I was pretty sure he didn’t have much life left in him. There wasn’t much of a pulse at all when I got there.”
People began to come over, and the women asked for help. No one replied. No one helped. “She was trying to give him mouth-to-mouth,” says Weiler. “But I could hear the blood gurgling.” One of the bystanders suggested putting the victim onto his side to clear his air passages. The two women rolled him over, “and that was when all the blood came out of his mouth,” Weiler says. “He was pretty much drowning in his own blood.”
Then a female store clerk walked over, saying she had called 911.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department crime report states the call came in on May 14, 2008, a Wednesday afternoon, at 17:17:00 (5:17 p.m.); the reporting deputy was Ray Abdou. The stabbing victim is listed as William Baker Jr. Records show his home address as Olive Avenue, only three streets from the stabbing scene.
Sheriff’s deputy Sergeant David Martinez says that employees of the Shell station at 936 East Mission Road in Fallbrook made the 911 call, responding to “independent witnesses doing business at the store, who went inside to report the stabbing,” which apparently happened in the driveway area of the gasoline station.
Inside the station’s convenience store, customers and counter personnel can view at least nine screens showing live video surveillance of the property. However, the assault occurred during a busy time at this refueling spot on the main thoroughfare of downtown Fallbrook.
Employees of the Shell station declined to comment for this story.
Sergeant Martinez estimated that the patrol car carrying Deputy Mayne arrived at the scene within a “couple minutes” after police received the call. The backup car carrying Deputies Abdou and Crowley arrived shortly thereafter.
“I would estimate maybe about eight minutes a patrol car came up,” Weiler says, adding that time moved slowly. She says the patrol car “came quickly,” tires screeching. The officer jumped from the vehicle, immediately went to his trunk, and put on gloves. Weiler says the deputy knelt down, checked vitals, and took over applying CPR. He asked Weiler “to stay to answer some questions.”
The public information officer for the North County Fire Protection District, John Buchanan, says the Fallbrook fire station got the dispatch call at the same time the police did, and paramedics were dispatched.
The victim was pronounced dead at 5:35 p.m. Buchanan says his records show the victim suffered one stab wound, two inches off center, to the left side of the chest.
Sergeant Martinez says that witnesses at the Shell station, including the victim’s girlfriend, described a man and a woman fleeing the scene in a gray Honda Civic. One witness was able to provide a partial license plate number to deputies, who broadcasted a BOLO, “be on the lookout,” to all deputies in the area.
Weiler says the victim’s girlfriend told her, “Someone tried to jack our car!” Weiler asked, “Who?” The woman replied, “It was a guy and his girlfriend in a gray Honda Civic.” Weiler says, “To me, the impression I got, they were strangers.”
In these early moments, law enforcement suspected the situation was a botched carjacking, Sergeant Martinez says. There were conflicting reports at first, he says, as to whether the attacker and victim knew each other.
Sheriff’s deputy Peter Alvarado and his canine partner Quandro were in a marked cruiser on Highway 76, south of Fallbrook, when Alvarado saw a gray Honda Civic. He turned on his red lights and siren, but the Honda failed to stop. The pursuit made for a strange chase on the clogged single-lane road, with the fleeing suspects, a female driving and a male on the passenger side, traveling south toward Oceanside. After crossing into the city of Oceanside, the car pulled over; then the male suspect fled on foot.
Sergeant Martinez describes the male suspect as white, with tattoos and shaved blond hair. He says that Quandro “made contact with the suspect, and the deputy apprehended him. The female suspect was detained when backup units arrived.”
Carmina Bunnell, the alleged driver of the getaway vehicle, was questioned by authorities, but she was found to be “very cooperative,” according to Sergeant Martinez, and was later released.
Travis Sean Hopkins was arrested and held on charges of murder in the first degree and robbery. It is alleged that he robbed William Baker Jr. of his backpack, stabbed him, then fled the scene.
Hopkins, born April 26, 1983, has a court record. Current court documents regarding Hopkins refer to “juvenile adjudications.”
The first adult convictions appear in the public record in December 2001, when Hopkins was 18 years old; these are listed as California Penal Codes 245(a)(1), assault with a deadly weapon likely to produce great bodily injury, and 1192.7(c)(8), indicating that the assault conviction would count on Hopkins’s record as a strike under the Three Strikes law.
In November 2003, Hopkins was arrested and charged with possessing and being under the influence of heroin. He pled guilty to one charge of possession, a felony. Probation was granted on January 23, 2004. Five months later, on June 29, 2004, probation was revoked due to violation of the conditions of probation, and a bench warrant was issued.
The superior court in Vista also has files with the name of the victim, William Baker Jr. These date back to 2004. Baker’s most recent legal troubles are listed in a felony complaint filed on September 7, 2006, when Baker was charged with possessing heroin, a hypodermic needle and syringe, and drug paraphernalia. On September 19, 2006, he signed a no contest plea to felony possession of heroin.
Law enforcement officials recovered the backpack allegedly stolen from Baker. Sergeant Martinez declined to reveal if the backpack contained heroin or drugs. According to the sergeant, Hopkins would not say if he knew the stabbing victim or if he and Baker had arranged to meet that afternoon at the Shell station.
Hopkins’s first appearance in court on charges of murder and robbery was on Friday, May 16, two days after the alleged murder. Jack Campbell from the Public Defender’s Office had been assigned as Hopkins’s lawyer. Looking alert if not downright defiant, Hopkins appeared taller and heavier in court than the five feet nine inches and 160 pounds that sheriff’s records give as his description.
On May 29, at a readiness hearing, Hopkins appeared more contrite and humbled. When deputies brought him into the courtroom, dressed in a bright orange jail jumpsuit and shackled at the waist and wrists, he made a kiss toward three people who described themselves as “friends and family.”
“It’s really, really sad that something like that would happen in Fallbrook,” says Celine Weiler, the Good Samaritan. “It’s really a peaceful place. It’s really a family-oriented community.”
It’s ten days after the stabbing. Weiler is sitting in the modest office of her fiancée’s car lot. Heavy gray storm clouds move in over us, unusually threatening weather for May. Later, funnel clouds and hail will be reported in neighboring Temecula, and the green avocado groves of Fallbrook’s farming community will bend and sway under thrashing wind and rain.
Weiler says a sheriff’s deputy told her and Cornejo there was nothing they could have done to save Baker’s life. The wound was too severe.
Another readiness hearing is scheduled for June 23, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 7. Hopkins is being held in lieu of $5 million bail.