Lizette Cuesta: US teenager ‘named killers’ in last breaths

Lizette Cuesta: US teenager \'named killers\' in last breaths
19-year-old woman, fatally stabbed, IDs 2 suspects from deathbed
nTwo teens were arrested Monday on suspicion of fatally stabbing a teenage woman multiple times and leaving her for dead just outside of Livermore in the early morning hours, authorities said.

Dispatchers received a 911 call about 2 a.m. about a woman missing an arm and lying in the middle of Tesla Road, about 2 miles west of Carnegie Park, said Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

The first driver to see Cuesta didn’t stop out of fear for her own safety and instead continued through the foothills until she regained cellphone reception and called 911, Kelly said. Witnesses reported the young woman’s throat appeared to have been cut and she was covered in blood. Subsequent drivers stopped and cared for Cuesta as she lay dying, with one man saying he covered her with a blanket and prayed with her.

The victim, a 19-year-old woman from Tracy, was not missing an arm, but she was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Kelly said.

A man and woman, both 19, were arrested in Modesto after the victim gave officers a “compelling account” of who was responsible for her death, Kelly said.

19-year-old woman, fatally stabbed, IDs 2 suspects from deathbed
19-year-old woman, fatally stabbed, IDs 2 suspects from deathbed

A woman was stabbed several times and taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries early Monday, prompting the California Highway Patrol to close Tesla Road east of Livermore during a police investigation. Alex Savidge 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,” Kelly said. “A dying declaration is a very compelling piece of evidence that’s recognized in the court to be very credible and reliable information.”

Authorities said the victim crawled nearly 100 yards along the roadway before being discovered by a passing motorist.

“There was a rumor she had no arm (and) that’s not true,” Kelly said. “We know that she was crawling out to the roadway to get help — (that) is what we suspect.”

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Teen crawls 100 yards after being stabbed, dumped from vehicle

Preliminary investigations reveal that the woman was stabbed, dumped out of a car and left for dead, Kelly said. In addition to stab wounds, the woman had other injuries that were not specified.

TRACY, Calif. — The family of a Tracy woman who was stabbed to death spoke out Tuesday night after investigators in Alameda County released her identity earlier in the day. Lizette Cuesta, 19, was stabbed and left on a rural road near Livermore early Monday morning, CBS Sacramento reports. Her story grabbed national headlines after her deathbed testimony pointed investigators to her alleged killers.

“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.”

Suspects, Victim in Brutal Livermore Killing Identified
Suspects, Victim in Brutal Livermore Killing Identified

Stabbing victim remembered for her ‘bravery,’ fighting to survive

The suspects, who were not identified, were found at a residence 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.

Two suspects were arrested Monday afternoon in Modesto: 19-year-old Daniel Gross and 25-year-old Melissa Leonardo. Investigators believe they knew the victim and targeted her for this vicious crime.

A motive for the killing is under investigation, and the suspects were to be transported back to Alameda County to be booked into jail, Kelly said.

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SarRavani

The victim of the Tesla Road Homicide is identified as: Lizette Andrea Cuesta, Age 19, from Tracy, CA. Our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

‘Remarkable’: Dying US woman’s last words were to identify her ‘killers’

A “tremendous” amount of evidence was found at the south Modesto home shared by 19-year-old Daniel Gross and 25-year-old Melissa Leonardo, the suspects in the murder of a Tracy teenager early Monday, an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.

Richard Loadholt says the woman was fighting for her life when he and a friend found her Monday soaked in blood and dragging herself on the side of a road in Livermore.
Update: Race to murder suspects' Modesto home was critical in preserving evidence
Update: Race to murder suspects’ Modesto home was critical in preserving evidence

And victim Lizette Cuesta’s dying declaration to first responders, in which she named her killers, quickly led investigators to the home in the 1000 block of Nadine Avenue.

 Gross said he, Cuesta and Leonardo all worked together at a Carl's Jr. restaurant in Tracy. Gross said he and Leonardo were shift leaders, while Cuesta took orders.   He said Cuesta began working there about five months ago, and after some time had passed, Gross said his working relationship with Cuesta turned sexual. Both women were aware of each other and did not object, he said.   He said Leonardo had nothing to do with what happened early Monday other than driving to and from Livermore.   Asked if he was responsible for what happened, Gross simply nodded. Asked if he should be in jail, he shrugged and said, "I'm here."  

“From the time we discovered Lizette (whom passers-by found suffering multiple stab wounds along Tesla Road in a remote area of Alameda County) to the time we got to Modesto was critical in the preservation of the crime scene,” Sgt. Ray Kelly, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, told The Bee. “The evidence and Lizette’s statements to us helped make this investigation unfold very rapidly.”

 "I gave her the knife," he said. "She didn't feel safe skating in Tracy," he said, referring to the victims's love for skateboarding. "I protected her."  He said the confrontation happened outside somewhere in Livermore after he and Cuesta had had sex in the back of Leonardo's car as Leonardo drove. All three had smoked marijuana that night, he said.   During the encounter, he said he had tied her up with a yellow rope, with Cuesta's consent. A yellow rope was found at the scene near where Alameda County sheriff's investigators say the victim had been left at the side of the road. 

Gross and Leonardo are engaged, according to their Facebook profiles, and the Sheriff’s Office has described Cuesta as a friend of both.

 "I didn't plan to do this at all," Daniel Gross, 19, of Modesto said in a 20-minute interview from behind a glass partition at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. But he said, "I feel like s-. I f- hate myself, you know? I wish I could go back in time and that this never happened." He questioned whether any apology would be adequate.    He declined to say how his friend, 19-year-old Lizette Cuesta of Tracy, ended up dead. Authorities say she died of stab wounds early Monday after she was found by motorists crawling on her stomach on Tesla Road outside Livermore.  

At a news conference in Alameda County on Tuesday, Kelly told reporters that investigators “have a lot to fill in as far as motive.” The night of the murder, Cuesta got into the suspects’ car consensually, Kelly said. After that, detectives have been “trying to put together what happened.”

He said Gross and Leonardo both are believed to be complicit in her death. Detectives will work to determine if any others acted as accessories before or after the murder, he added.

Asked where the stabbing of the victim is believed to have occurred, Kelly told The Bee, “We have a very dynamic crime scene on Tesla Road … I’m going to leave it at that.”

Related stories from Modesto Bee Watch Ceres woman discuss 16-year friendship with murder suspect Daniel Gross

San Francisco news station KRON reported Monday that authorities said it appears Cuesta was dumped from a car and left for dead. It said she crawled about 100 yards until a passerby spotted her about 2 a.m. and called 911. She was airlifted to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where she pronounced dead about 4:30 a.m.

“She survived for quite a bit of time against tremendous odds and was left there for dead,” Kelly said.

On the evidence found at the Nadine Avenue home, the sergeant said at the news conference, “What it is and what it means to the case, we’re not ready to say yet.”

Locals suspected in killing

Kelly said Alameda County sheriff’s investigators still were in the field Tuesday in Modesto and Tracy, “contacting all the people we need to.”

His department is careful with the information it releases, to ensure the integrity of the investigation, Kelly noted. What’s said is sure to stimulate conversations, and “we want to make sure we’re ahead of those conversations.”

He urged anyone with information on the case to contact the Sheriff’s Office through its website or at … Tipsters may remain anonymous, he said.

Livermore stabbing victim remembered as “vibrant” and joyful

The Modesto Police Department has had no contact with Leonardo, spokeswoman Heather Graves said, and no contact with Gross since he was a minor.

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Dying stabbing victim names killers

Do you know what to do if you accidentally dial 911? Do you know what information is crucial in an emergency? Here’s what you need to know to get the police, fire or ambulance service you need fast. Mark HofferThe Star-Telegram

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