Tag Archive for: elder abuse

Prison Sentence for Defendant Who Pushed Man into Freight Train

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Ryan Rukstelis, 27, was sentenced this week to 15 years-to-life in prison for a random attack that killed an elderly man at the Old Town Transit Station. Superior Court Judge Rachel Cano handed down the sentence on Thursday.

The victim, 68-year-old Martin Andara, was on his way to work at a Ralph’s supermarket in Pacific Beach at about 6:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day in 2022. After exiting the trolley and walking toward a connecting bus at the station, Rukstelis is seen on surveillance video walking ahead of Andara then slowing and stopping to wait until he is even with the victim. Rukstelis suddenly attacked Andara for no reason, punching him and pushing him directly into a freight train that was moving past them. Andara suffered severe head trauma causing almost immediate death.

“This random, chilling attack took the life of a man who was loved by his family, friends and colleagues,” said DA Stephan. “It is a tragic case that was solved by excellent police work and brought to justice by the Elder Abuse Unit in our office.” 

Police analyzed surveillance footage at various train stations throughout the county and determined that Rukstelis was at a trolley station in Mission Valley hours before the attack earlier that morning. Surveillance footage captured him attempting to remove a broken front panel of a vending machine. Fingerprints were lifted from the inside of the vending machine panel, matching those of Rukstelis. Investigators arrested Rukstelis three days after the attack.

Rukstelis pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on June 30. Deputy District Attorney Scott Pirrello prosecuted this case.  

Prolific Thieves Sentenced

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today two thieves, known for traveling throughout San Diego County to find elderly victims to prey upon, have been sentenced to local custody and to prison after being convicted of robbery, attempted residential burglary and theft from an elderly person.

The defendants – Daniel Miclescu and Simona Paun – are a husband-and-wife team who targeted three victims last August and September, pretending to sell jewelry before forcefully stealing one victim’s Rolex watch and another victim’s purse containing $850 in cash. The third victim was able to prevent the thieves from accessing her home by quickly slamming the door once the defendants tried to force their way in. She had rebuffed the sellers the previous day in a Mira Mesa parking lot, and they followed her home, unbeknownst to her.

“These type of traveling thieves have been prolific in San Diego County, around California and across the country for the past two years and often approach victims in parking lots at local shopping centers or within residential neighborhoods, in upscale rental vehicles,” DA Stephan said. “Let this prosecution and sentencing be an example to would-be thieves that we will not tolerate these organized criminal acts.”

The defendants are part of nationwide ring involving hundreds of suspects. In a typical case, the suspects contact a victim in a parking lot of a shopping center or while they are out for a walk in their neighborhood. The conversation begins with the suspects asking for directions or telling the victim they were robbed and need assistance. Many times, the suspects say they are from Dubai and need help getting back home. Once the victims begin talking to the suspects and letting their guard down, the suspects use distraction and sleight of hand techniques to steal necklaces, watches, rings, and cash. In some cases, when the suspect is unsuccessful, force is used to steal the jewelry.

The San Diego Police Department is committed to solving these crimes and holding the perpetrators accountable. In the past nine months, detectives have arrested 13 subjects in San Diego and other counties in Southern California, and numerous more suspects are currently under investigation and arrests are pending.

“This is an excellent example of law enforcement partners working together to hold criminals accountable,” said Chief David Nisleit. “We will continue these efforts to protect our communities against these brazen crimes.”

Since the start of 2021, San Diego law enforcement have received more than 75 reports of similar thefts and attempted thefts involving dozens of suspects. Most of the crimes occur in shopping center parking lots and the series disproportionally targets the elderly and significant number of Asian victims in the Mira Mesa neighborhood and in National City.

To avoid being victimized, immediately walk away if approached by anyone offering jewelry. Remain in contact with other people or witnesses if possible and create distance between yourself and anyone offering jewelry, including their vehicles as suspects may attempt to grab jewelry and speed away. If contacted in a parking lot, ensure that you are not being followed when you drive away.

Please report aggressive parking lot jewelry sales to store employees or police.

Miclescu, who was sentenced to four years in state prison and Paun, who received one year of local jail plus probation, pleaded guilty on December 9. Deputy District Attorney Scott Pirrello handled this case.

One Safe Place– The North County Family Justice Center

We provide free support services all under one roof to anyone who has experienced family violence, child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes, elder abuse, human trafficking, violent loss, or other crimes. At One Safe Place—the North County Family Justice Center— we provide comprehensive help in a safe and judgment-free environment that empowers people to move forward with their lives. Visit www.OneSafePlaceNorth.org for more information.