Chance encounter

Police say David Yang’s murder appears to be random

Mid-morning traffic flies by as Sgt. Rob Merrifield stands at the intersection of Highway 32 and Bruce Road, where David Yang was murdered.

Mid-morning traffic flies by as Sgt. Rob Merrifield stands at the intersection of Highway 32 and Bruce Road, where David Yang was murdered.

Photo By melissa daugherty

Chico Police Sgt. Rob Merrifield stood near a homemade cross at the northwest corner of Highway 32 and Bruce Road, pointing to markings of orange spray paint inside of the intersection.

It’s the spot crime-scene investigators marked out as the stopping point of the car David Yang was driving in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning, when he was shot and killed as he returned to work at a nearby rehabilitation center.

The cross went up within days of 26-year-old Yang’s death and is now covered in messages about who he was and how he’s missed. Yang was a husband, son and brother, a respected member of the Hmong community who was studying to become a pastor. Pictures of him gardening and fishing adorn the roadside memorial, along with the heart-wrenching words of family and friends.

His death also has affected many others who never knew him.

The flower-surrounded shrine carries messages from strangers, such as a child’s crayon drawing of a rainbow and cross accompanied by the words, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Another note reads, in part: “Please know that you have affected me, even though we never met. I have a new viewpoint and some things to consider before I rush to judge or stereotype.”

Shooting deaths in Chico of late have been connected to gang violence, but Yang’s murder is thought to be the result of a chance encounter. Merrifield, a Chico Police Department veteran of more than 20 years, cannot think of another case as random. The only one that comes remotely close, he said, is a sniper-type shooting in Upper Bidwell Park decades ago. In that case, the victim, who was lying on a raft in Horseshoe Lake, survived the incident.

In this case, Yang, who was shot in the head, died instantly, Merrifield said.

Alerted by a passing motorist, police found the aspiring minister slumped over his steering wheel, with the vehicle idling in drive and the left turn-signal still flashing. The front passenger-side window was blown out. Yang, a graduate of Simpson University in Redding, was just a half-mile away from his job at California Park Rehabilitation, a tidy-looking facility surrounded by senior complexes and a middle-class neighborhood.

Ballistics work is still being conducted, but it appears Yang was shot from a field southwest of the intersection, which is surrounded on all corners by dry, weed-ridden landscapes of varying sloping elevations. As traffic whizzed by, Merrifield described the mysterious nature of the crime scene.

He pointed out that at time of the shooting, this portion of the highway would have been pretty remote. “This is a really quiet place at 3:30 in the morning, so the possibility of somebody witnessing this is really nil,” he said.

What the detectives had to go on the morning of the murder was a car with stolen plates parked on the north side of the highway, conspicuously close to where Yang was gunned down. That vehicle, a red Chrysler sedan, contained shotgun shells and belongs to Jeffrey Menzies, who is now facing a charge of first-degree murder.

Family and friends, including Yang’s Ultimate Frisbee buddies, have left photos and messages on a memorial at the site.

Photo By melissa daugherty

During a recent press conference, Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney insisted it appears Menzies and Yang had no connections. That belief is puzzling to law enforcement officials, though they are confident their suspect is the shooter. That became clear as Maloney, flanked by District Attorney Mike Ramsey, explained part of what investigators believe took place in the hours leading up to the murder and to the time Menzies was taken into custody.

Maloney said the 27-year-old Richvale native, who lived on Alpine Street in Chico not far from the crime scene, had been drinking at a local bar that evening. Afterward, police believe, he parked his car along the highway and hid himself in that adjacent field. At the time, he allegedly had two weapons in his possession.

“And tragically, Mr. Yang came into his sights,” said Maloney, adding there simply is no motive for the crime.

Police believe that Menzies walked home after the shooting.

Given the lighting conditions at that time, which police believe would have obscured Yang’s age, sex and race, Maloney said it was unlikely the murder is a hate crime. There’s also no evidence of a road-rage incident.

That evening, Menzies came into the police station on his own to report his car as stolen. Investigators interviewed him, and as the evening wore on and a clearer picture of what took place emerged, he was arrested on an open count of murder, said Maloney, who gave scant additional details about the case.

On Wednesday (Sept. 28), he was arraigned at Butte County Superior Court.

No witnesses have come forward, and although Yang was shot by a large-caliber rifle, the kind designed to take down deer, police have not located the murder weapon. Merrifield said detectives have searched Menzies’ residence. They also scoured the region surrounding the crime scene for 24 hours straight after the murder, and he says they’ve been back there every day since. But there are many wooded pathways, culverts, suburban rooftops and other places to ditch a weapon along the routes Menzies would most likely have taken to get home.

Why he left the car near the murder scene is speculation at this point, yet it’s the only piece of physical evidence from the scene thus far that links him to the crime.

“If the car hadn’t been here, we’d have really been stuck on this deal,” Merrifield said.