In a dramatic escalation of events, Mexican state police arrested a female friend of RTS Towing owner Randal Loy Wright as Merced County sheriff's investigators reopened the 1982 drowning case of his 6-year-old stepson.
The new disclosures complicate an already twisted legal tale. Deputies have also been trying to find Wright's wife, who went missing last month. And they're trying to solve a homicide case in which two of Wright's workers vanished 16 years ago. Their bodies have never been found.
Wright, 59, hasn't been named a suspect or charged in connection with the homicide case or disappearance.
Teresa Hut, a 45-year-old woman who deputies say is Wright's girlfriend, was arrested this week in San Felipe, Mexico after police found his missing Mercedes at a vacant house she oversees as a property manager.
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Wright took the $106,000 car to a Fresno dealer for repairs. However, sheriff's spokesman Tom MacKenzie said, he had stopped making payments.
Someone then drove the car away in December from the lot.
Hut is being held in jail on a suspicion of possessing stolen property. She'll be extradited to Merced to face conspiracy charges if the Mexican police release her, MacKenzie said Friday.
Wright has been accused of perjury and auto theft. He'll stand trial for the first charge June 1. The other case is set for a preliminary hearing Monday to see if there's enough evidence to move forward.
Tom Pfeiff, Wright's attorney, said he doesn't think much of the perjury and auto theft allegations, calling them "ticky-tack charges."
He said they've been pursued by investigators because of their suspicion that Wright was involved with the disappearance of his wife, Karen Rene Wright, or the death of his employees.
"If it wasn't so sad for Mr. Wright, it'd be humorous," Pfeiff said outside court.
As part of their investigation, detectives are also reviewing the autopsy report from the drowning death of Aaron David Larson Wright, who was Wright's stepson from a previous marriage.
"There seems to be too much bad luck following this guy around," MacKenzie said.
The boy drowned while playing alone in a pool at a neighbor's home July 9, 1982, according to a Sun-Star article from the time.
In addition, a search warrant for Wright's DNA issued March 31 also became public Friday. The terse law-enforcement language describes an unsettling chronology involving Wright, another man and the two missing employees.
Sheriff's Detective Lane Clark wrote in the report that Jack Malone, described as "a witness in the investigation," said he saw Gary Barker, Steven Lombard, Paul Armstrong and Wright go into a shed at RTS Towing on Dec. 17, 1993. That was the day the men disappeared.
Malone said Barker and Wright came out and locked the door. He never saw Armstrong or Lombard again.
Wright drove his Lexus sedan into the shop, closed the doors and drove off a little later. He was gone for about four hours, according to the warrant.
Barker drove Armstrong's truck away from the yard.
Malone said he believed Wright was angry with Lombard and Armstrong for filing a complaint with the state Employment Development Department.
Pfeiff explained that he represents Wright on the two cases and didn't have any comment on the search warrant's allegations.
"Everything else to me is speculation," Pfeiff said.
Wright's wife disappeared after making a trip to San Felipe, Mexico, on Feb. 9, where the couple had vacation homes. She had filed for divorce in October.
She claimed in court documents that her husband had threatened her and physically abused her, saying that he told her that "he could kill her and nobody would know." She also said her husband broke her hand and "ripped out chunks" of her hair.
He alleged that his wife was delusional and abusive toward him, and made up accusations that he was trying to poison her.
Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.