The former Anaheim PD homicide detective couldn’t fix what had happened or repair the family’s broken hearts, but he could fix something:
A barely drivable, 1997 Ford F-150 — the truck in which a father of four was murdered in front of his 13-year-old son and two other relatives in a drive-by freeway shooting in 2014.
Bruce Linn, now a cold-case homicide investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, returned to APD headquarters on Monday, March 26, to present the completely refurbished truck to the widow and four sons of Agustin Villegas, a mechanic who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Linn and several businesses stepped up to pay for the several thousand dollars of repairs.
Asked why he did so, Linn said: “The story speaks for itself.”
HORROR ON THE 91
At around 8 p.m. on July 14, 2014, Villegas, 32, was sitting in the front passenger seat of his truck, sorting through his tools, as his cousin, Abraham Vargas, 42, drove westbound on the 91 Freeway.
Villegas’s son, Ramsey, 13, was sitting behind the driver. Next to Ramsey was his cousin, Abraham Jr., 15, the driver’s 15-year-old son.
The young cousins were out of school for the summer and the family was returning from the auto shop in Anaheim where Villegas worked to have dinner at his home when, out of nowhere, a bullet blasted through the front passenger window.
Villegas was tragically and fatally struck in the head.
The same bullet skipped off the top of Vargas’ head, injuring him, but Vargas managed to steer the truck to the triangular gore point at the interchange of the westbound 91 and the southbound 57 and stop.
Ramsey called 911, barely able to describe to the dispatcher what had just happened to his father, a hard-working family man whose youngest son, named after him, was just an infant at the time.
“I’ve seen and heard a lot of things during my career, and the worst thing I’ve ever heard was that 911 call,” Linn said Monday.
Villegas was pronounced dead at the scene.
KILLER TO BE SENTENCED
At first left with little to go on, Anaheim PD detectives — led by Linn — soon linked the senseless murder to a cocaine dealer whose street name was “Crazy Dave.” They were aided in the investigation by an informant and a single shell casing found on the freeway.
David Arzate Cabrera, 45 at the time, eventually admitted to police that he shot Villegas because he thought Villegas had been following him and wanted to rob him.
The men, however, were strangers — and Villegas was far from a robber. In fact, he was known for fixing his neighbors’ cars for free.
Cabrera lived in a trailer park in Anaheim.
There, in Cabrera’s black Nissan sedan, APD detectives found an electronically controlled hidden compartment containing $15,000 in cash, 15 grams of cocaine and a Glock .357 detectives linked to the freeway shooting.
Cabrera was charged with the murder on Aug. 4, 2014.
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2018, an Orange County Jury convicted Cabrera of first-degree murder, possession of narcotics for sale and possession of a firearm by a felon.
His sentencing was scheduled for March 23, but has been postponed until May 11.
Cabrera, 49, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
From the time of the killing to Cabrera’s conviction two months ago, the Ford F-150 sat in inside storage, untouched because it was crime-scene evidence.
Linn’s first plan was to trash it and see if someone would donate a used truck for the family.
Linn reached out to the Villegas family through a victim’s advocate and learned that the family wanted the truck back since it held sentimental value to them.
Linn knew he couldn’t return the truck in its condition.
“My goal was twofold: I was going to clean it and make it run.”
So he went around town getting the truck fixed up.
In addition to the heavily damaged interior, the truck’s rear bumper was dangling off the back and the front of the truck shook when it was driven.
“My mechanic didn’t even know how the thing even went down the freeway, it was shaking so bad,” Linn said.
The tires were barely functional, both side passenger windows were destroyed, a bullet had hit the windshield, and the truck’s bed was a plastic wreck.
The truck had more than 203,000 miles on it.
Linn first went to Boss Paint & Body in Anaheim, which directed him to Frazier Auto Upholstery, which has been doing business in Anaheim since 1969.
The owner, Mark Herron, a retired LAPD cop who had been into cars his whole life, learned from Linn what had happened to the truck.
“I got this,” Herron said. He donated all of his work.
Herron put in a completely new interior, from the carpet pads to carpet to the seats to the foam to the headliner — all totally redone.
And Herron put in the tan upholstery that was original to the truck in 1997.
The truck’s engine and the broken and shuddering front end were all expertly and graciously handled by the donated work of Craig Haller and Josh Mussche at Exclusive Automotive in Placentia.
Linn then returned to Boss Paint & Body, which fixed the back bumper, windshield and both side passenger windows.
Linn had Linex installed in the truck’s bed, and then had a friend at Auto Fetish Detail in Placentia detail the truck, including the use of “Clay Bar,” an engineered resin mixture that removes contaminants and pollutants from the surface of a car’s paint, glass, fiberglass and metal.
Linn paid $1,200 out of his pocket for new tires and rims and paid for the truck’s registration through July 2018 after getting it smogged.
When she walked up to the truck, Villegas’ widow, Reyna Maya, wept between smiles.
Ramsey, now 17 and a junior at Magnolia High School, and his brother, Galo, 18, marveled at how great the truck looked as their younger brothers, Ulises, 7, and Agustin Jr., 4 climbed around and into it.
Anaheim PD Det. Julissa Trapp, Linn’s homicide partner at the Anaheim PD who assisted him at Cabrera’s trial, looked on with Homicide Unit Sgt. Jeff Mundy and homicide Det. Ryan Hunter.
“It drives awesome,” Linn told Reyna.
Trapp translated her response in Spanish:
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Reyna said. “It’s something so extraordinary. I still can’t believe it.”
She thanked the APD.
“It’s extremely kind of them,” Reyna said.
She will drive her late husband’s truck.
Recently, Reyna had been borrowing a car owned by her cousin, Margarita Garcia, who was with her and her sons Monday at the APD, after a tree fell on her car and destroyed it.
“I’ll never forget you and your family and this truck,” Linn told Reyna and her sons.
“Your family is a great family,” Linn added.
He turned to Ramsey and said:
“I don’t know why the bullet didn’t miss your dad. I’ll never know why. But I know is this: This world is worse because he’s gone….but we have you.”