Fatally wounded US teenager 'named killers' with her last breath
Lizette Andrea Cuesta died this week after receiving horrific injuries from a man and woman she called friends. Despite the extent of her wounds, Lizette managed to deliver the information needed to capture the culprits before she passed away.
The 19-year-old was found by UPS delivery drivers early on Monday morning just outside of Livermore, around 50 miles east of San Francisco. The authorities received a 911 call about a woman lying in the middle of Tesla Road, 2 miles of Carnegie Park, Sg.t Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office said.
She was soaked in blood, with injuries so bad that they initially believed she was missing an arm. Richard Loadholt, one of the four delivery drivers who found her, told KTXL-TV that there was so much blood he couldn't tell the colour of her hair. "She fought like a soldier, Loadholt said. "Like a warrior".
Cuesta was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where she used her final breaths to name her killers, an account that police used to arrest the couple responsible. The suspects were found in Modesto and arrested by deputies from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office with help from the Modesto Police Department and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.
The culprits were identified as 19-year-old Daniel Lee Benjamin Gross and 25-year-old Melissa Jill Leonardo, who were charged with murder on Wednesday afternoon. Sgt. Kelly said that the victim gave a "compelling account" of who was responsible, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:
“I’ve been around a long time, and I can only think of two to three times that I’m aware of in our agency that we’ve been able to get a dying declaration like that. A dying declaration is a very compelling piece of evidence that’s recognized in the court to be very credible and reliable information.
“There was a rumor she had no arm (and) that’s not true. We know that she was crawling out to the roadway to get help — (that) is what we suspect.”
Investigators spotted a trail of blood that Ms. Cuesta had left behind her as she dragged herself to the road, where she could be seen by motorists. After measuring it they discovered that she had dragged herself nearly 300 feet. From her wounds, they believe that she had been repeatedly stabbed and thrown from a car.
“Her internal fortitude, to stay alive and to fight, is pretty remarkable,” Kelly said. “This young woman clung to life when she was left for dead and was able to live for another couple hours and get us that information. Ultimately that led us to these arrests.”
It is believed that the Cuesta was a friend of the couple and willingly got into the car, and a motive for the murder is still under investigation. The case is still developing as the couple are held in Santa Rita Jail, with Kelly confirming to the Modesto Bee that a "tremendous" amount of evidence was recovered at the home.
"The evidence and Lizette's statements to us helped make this investigation unfold very rapidly," he said.
While this remains a tragic case, at least those responsible for Lizette's death will be brought to justice.