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El Centro Liquor store employee stabbed, delivery man nabs suspect

August 22, 2001|By DARREN SIMON and MARIO RENTERIA, Staff Writers

An El Centro man was recovering today after he was stabbed Tuesday in front of the liquor store in which he works, and El Centro police were crediting another man with catching the suspect and holding him until officers arrived.

The victim, Michael Lee, 30, of El Centro, was stabbed once in the stomach as he argued with another man, later identified as Andres Ochoa, 18, of El Centro.

Ochoa was in the county jail this morning after he was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. His bail was set at $100,000.

The stabbing occurred about 2 p.m. in front of El Centro Liquor at 401 State St.

El Centro police Sgt. Mike Crankshaw said Ochoa and a woman he was with entered the liquor store. Ochoa reportedly started to argue with clerks in the store.

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The clerks told him to leave. Ochoa walked outside the door and stood in the parking lot while the woman continued to shop.

However, Crankshaw said, Ochoa returned to the door and started shouting into the business. Lee walked out and started to argue with Ochoa.

Another man, John Espinoza of Imperial, an employee of Alford Distributing who was making a delivery to the store, stepped in to try to break up the argument.

Crankshaw alleged as Espinoza tried to break up the argument, Ochoa reached around and reportedly stabbed Lee once in the abdomen.

Espinoza told a reporter he saw the two arguing and tried to calm them.

Espinoza said he told Ochoa before the stabbing to get into his vehicle and leave, but the two kept arguing.

Espinoza said he was between the two when the stabbing occurred.

"He reached around me and stabbed him," Espinoza said.

At that point, Espinoza said, the attacker started walking toward the vehicle in which he arrived, which had two women inside.

Espinoza said he was going to write down the license plate number of the car but the vehicle did not have plates and the driver started to drive away without the suspect.

The suspect then started to run and Espinoza chased him.

"I wasn't really afraid for my life. I really didn't feel threatened," said Espinoza.

Espinoza said the knife that was used in the attack fell out of Ochoa's pocket as the two ran. Police recovered the knife.

Espinoza said at times during the chase Ochoa stopped to ask why Espinoza was chasing him.

"He would stop and I would talk to him to try to calm him down," said Espinoza.

Once Espinoza saw a police car, he tackled Ochoa and held him for police.

Espinoza said he's not sure why he chased Ochoa but said he thinks it's kind of ironic because he is leaving for a police academy in January.

He said he has been going on ride-alongs with Imperial police officers for the past two to three years.

"Maybe it's in my blood," said Espinoza.

Crankshaw said while citizens should not put themselves at risk, he credited Espinoza for his efforts. He said it was because of Espinoza that police were quickly took the suspect into custody.

Lee was being treated at El Centro Regional Medical Center this morning, where he was in stable condition.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached 337-4082. Staff Writer Mario Renteria can be reached at 337-3434.

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