– Police say a construction worker killed during a shooting and carjacking rampage last month was the victim of a random act of violence, with investigators determining that a witness was mistaken in telling detectives that the man may have been lured to his death by a phone call.
Investigators have determined that Jeremy Lewis, the construction worker, did not know Ali Syed, the man police say killed Lewis and two other people before taking his own life, a Tustin police statement released Tuesday said.
“At this point in the investigation, there does not appear to be any relationship between Lewis and Syed, and the murder appears to have been a random act of violence,” the statement read.
Based on information from witnesses, detectives last week obtained a search warrant to review the cellphone records of Syed and Lewis.
The witnesses told investigators that Lewis had been sitting in his parked Nissan 300ZX next to co-workers in a Tustin parking lot before work when he received a phone call about 5:40 a.m., an affidavit in support of the search warrant said.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Lewis is quoted as telling the caller in the affidavit before backing his car out and driving to a nearby parking lot in the 1100 block of East Edinger Avenue, where Syed was apparently waiting.
Lewis’ co-workers saw Syed holding a shotgun and ordering Lewis out of the Nissan, then back inside to start the engine before commanding him to “go away,” detectives wrote.
“Lewis started backing away from Ali Syed,” Tustin police detective Colton Kirwan wrote in a document called a statement of probable cause. “When Lewis was approximately 15 feet away, he turned to run. Ali Syed fired one shot at him, and Lewis started to limp. When Lewis was approximately 30 feet away, Ali Syed shot him again.”
Lewis died in the parking lot from the multiple blasts from the shotgun.
The witnesses report of a phone call combined with Lewis immediately driving to the parking lot where Syed was waiting led police to write in the search warrant affidavit that “it became apparent that the suspect lured the victim to this location to kill him.”
Investigators now believe that witnesses were mistaken, with phone records showing that Lewis did not receive or make any calls while he was in his parked car.
“That is our best guess right now, that the witness just misinterpreted Mr. Lewis as being on the phone,” Tustin police Lt. Paul Garaven said.
The killings began early Feb. 19 with the shooting of Courtney Aoki, 20, of Buena Park in a Ladera Ranch townhouse, where Syed lived with his family.
Syed fled from the home in his parents’ 2011 GMC Yukon. Over the next hour, Syed carjacked or attempted to carjack at least four motorists and shot at several people, police said.
Police say Syed spared a motorist who gave up his Dodge pickup during a carjacking at a gas station, before shooting and killing Melvin Edwards, 69, a Vietnam veteran and Santa Ana businessman, during a carjacking at the McFadden Avenue off-ramp from the 55. Police described the killing of Edwards as an execution.
Syed drove Edwards’ BMW to the Tustin parking lot where he confronted and shot Lewis, police said, then shot and killed himself a short time later at Katella Avenue and Wanda Street as police caught up with him.
Authorities have not determined a motive for the shootings or disclosed how Syed knew the first victim, Aoki, or why she was in his home at 4:45 a.m.
There reportedly were no indications of violence or mental illness in Syed’s past. Authorities have described Syed, who was unemployed but taking a class at Saddleback College, as a loner who spent most of his free time playing video games.
A search of a desktop computer from Syed’s bedroom turned up what authorities described as a suicide note written within an hour of the first shooting. Based on the note, Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigators believe Syed’s acts were “premeditated.” However, investigators also indicated that Syed was not “victim or location specific” within the note.
By SEAN EMERY and LARRY WELBORN/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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