Bellevue traffic stop is murder suspect's undoing
A routine stop for a broken light Friday night ended with the capture of a man police say is wanted in Wisconsin for a murder 19 years ago...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A routine stop for a broken light Friday night ended with the capture of a man police say is wanted in Wisconsin for a murder 19 years ago.
Police say the man had been living in Washington for about 15 years, is married and had a driver's license issued under an assumed name they would not release. But they say he is actually Ezequiel Lopez-Zavala, who is charged with first-degree murder in Beloit, Wis., in the 1988 stabbing of a 22-year-old man.
"It's a little bit of 'You're kidding,' " said Capt. William Tyler of the Beloit police department. "The memories fade, but we always wanted to know if we were going to get another shot at him."
The man is being held in the King County Jail while he awaits extradition to Wisconsin.
The end of Lopez-Zavala's life on the lam came at 7:44 p.m. Friday, when a Bellevue police officer spotted a gray Chevrolet pickup with a nonfunctioning license-plate light near 124th Avenue Northeast and Northeast Eighth Street, Bellevue police said.
When the officer checked the man's driver's license, he found that the 42-year-old — under his assumed name — was wanted on a misdemeanor warrant for driving with a suspended license. He was arrested, fingerprinted and photographed at Bellevue police headquarters, then driven to the Issaquah city jail to wait for a court appearance on the driving charge.
Then at 11 p.m., Bellevue police said, a Teletype from the FBI arrived, saying the man's fingerprints matched those of Lopez-Zavala and he was wanted for murder in Wisconsin. Beloit police were notified Saturday morning.
It was a well-known homicide case in Beloit, a town of 40,000 in the southern part of the state near the Illinois border that has only about five murders a year. But investigators there had long figured the trail had gone cold.
Authorities there say that in 1988, then-23-year-old Lopez-Zavala got into a fight with his girlfriend's brother, David Landwehr, and stabbed him to death. He was arrested the same day in Illinois and was held in a local jail to wait for extradition to Wisconsin. A judge set bail at $50,000. Lopez-Zavala was allowed to post 10 percent under Illinois law. He was released and never returned to court.
Beloit police teamed up with the FBI, but everyone figured the defendant had fled to Mexico, said Tyler, of the Beloit police.
Meanwhile, for 15 years in Washington, Lopez-Zavala managed to avoid being booked into jail and fingerprinted, Bellevue police said. His only runs-in with the law were minor traffic infractions.
It remains unclear how he managed to get an official state driver's license under a false name, said Greg Gannis, a Bellevue police spokesman.
"That's probably something we'll be asking questions about this week," he said.
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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