MURDER IN THE MOUNTAINS
Vons, the Southern California and Southern Nevada supermarket chain, has approximately 325 locations – including one in the small mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, California. Beneath the seams of what appeared to be like any other grocery store in America, five years ago the Mammoth Vons became the epicenter of power struggles, jealousy and secrets that eventually led to the violent murder of one of its employees.
At around 2 a.m. on October 9, 2016, Jose Omar Hernandez Sanchez, also known as Omar Sanchez, was shot to death in the driveway of his residence at 200 Azimuth Street in Mammoth Lakes. Sanchez, a former manager at the Mammoth Lakes Vons, had notorious strifes with a few of his crew members; this included 29-year-old Josue Adalberto Corea-Vasquez, who is now on trial for Sanchez’s murder.
Corea-Vasquez has been a resident of Mammoth Lakes for over 10 years. He worked as an employee at Vons where the victim was his supervisor. An alleged ongoing dispute between the suspect and victim led to Corea-Vazquez allegedly shooting Omar Sanchez 30 times with an AK-47 assault rifle on October 9, 2016, killing him. After the case going cold for 3 and a half years, Corea-Vasquez was arraigned on February 3, 2020 on charges of special circumstance first-degree murder.
Opening arguments began on Friday, October 8 inside Mono County Superior Court and the trial is expected to last until Friday, October 22.
This story covers the first four days of the trial, including opening arguments and the prosecution’s witnesses.
Corea-Vasquez confessed to the murder during police interviews. But he now argues that he was coerced by police to do so. In an apology letter he wrote to Sanchez’s two sons, who are now 6 and 11 years old, he stated, “I am sorry for what I’ve done, but when you get older you will realize that your father was a bad human and an even worse man.”
At around 1:30 a.m. on October 9, 2016, Omar Sanchez’s wife Gladys Maria Gastelum-Ruelas testified that her husband went outside to warm up his Subaru in preparation for driving to Vons to work the night shift. He then went back inside to sip his morning coffee and hug his wife as well as their one-year old son, Matthew, goodbye before he took off for work. The last thing he said to his wife was, “I love you, I’m gonna go now,” to which she responded, “God bless you.”
In the meantime, Josue Corea-Vasquez was allegedly waiting for him. Corea-Vasquez, who had problems working under Sanchez – who he claims was on a power trip as a manager – had apparently been stalking Sanchez to familiarize himself with his schedule. He allegedly sat for nearly 90 minutes waiting for Sanchez to come back outside after he started his car. When Sanchez re-emerged, Corea-Vasquez appeared, announced “you’re not so invincible anymore” (according to his confession) and then fired 30 rounds at Sanchez with an AK-47. Sanchez was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics who arrived shortly thereafter.
During cross-examination, Gladys Maria Gastelum-Ruelas revealed that at one time Sanchez and Corea-Vasquez had had a “friendly relationship.” In fact, Corea-Vasquez even came to their house for Christmas dinner in 2011. Somewhere between then and 2016 things turned sour, however, and Sanchez almost never spoke to his wife about anything work-related.
After hearing the gunshots, neighbors reported seeing a shadow running away from the crime scene and then seeing and hearing a car peel out of the Azimuth lot. Gastelum-Ruelas was breastfeeding the baby when the gunshots were fired. Upon hearing the shots, she panicked, threw on clothes, grabbed her baby and ran outside to find her husband lying in his own blood. The police were called and medics soon came.
Josue Corea-Vasquez apparently drove off and returned back to his residence near the Village at Mammoth. Soon thereafter, his younger brother, Eliud Corea-Vasquez, took the murder weapon as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition and buried them near Shady Rest Park, where they remained for the next three and a half years.
Eliud maintains that he didn’t ask many questions about what he was burying or why. Josue Corea-Vasquez then went on living his life for the next three and a half years, continuing to work at the Mammoth Vons as if nothing had happened.
Aside from his younger brother, there was apparently only one other soul who suspected that Corea-Vasquez committed the murder: Francisco Ramirez-Garcia, a co-worker at Vons who was aquaintances with Josue Corea-Vasquez. Corea-Vasquez had apparently told Garcia that Sanchez threatened to fire Vasquez’s entire family (he, his brother, and his uncle all worked at Vons), and that he hated Sanchez and intended on making him disappear.
After the murder happened, Corea-Vasquez apparently texted Garcia saying, “You see? Nobody messes with me.” Garcia apparently showed only one other person the text message – another employee of Vons named Ruben Muniz – before deleting it.
Garcia claims that for the next three and a half years he suspected Josue Corea-Vasquez to be Sanchez’s killer, but never told anyone else out of fear for his own life.
It wasn’t until Garcia was eventually promoted to the same managerial position that Sanchez had held, that conflict between he and Josue Corea-Vasquez escalated to a point where he felt that Corea-Vasquez was going to “kill him too.”
He went to investigators in June of 2019 and told them that Corea-Vasquez was responsible for the death of Jose Omar Hernandez Sanchez.
The investigative team, led by Chris Callinan, eventually found 56 cartridge casings buried in the dirt of Shady Rest, along with an AK-47 and at least 15 cartridge casings that matched the gun. Eliud Corea-Vasquez was prompted to show police the burial spot before being charged with a felony for hiding a murder weapon. There was no DNA or fingerprints found on the gun.
The AK-47 found was traced to a registered gun owner whose son, Edward Lasley, worked at Vons with Josue Corea-Vasquez. Lasley later admitted to selling the gun to Corea-Vasquez for $5,000 along with magazines and a .22 pistol, which were also found.
Josue Corea-Vasquez was arrested on January 30, 2020 outside of the Mammoth Vons after completing his shift for that day, and charged with the murder of Jose Omar Hernandez Sanchez.
But the plot thickens, making everything a bit more complicated.
Completely aside from Josue Corea-Vasquez’s relationship with Sanchez, Eliud Corea-Vasquez also had problems with Sanchez. Sanchez was apparently disrespectful to Eliud to the point where Eliud went to the Vons Human Resources (HR) Department to report Sanchez’s behavior. HR informed Eliud that he was the fifth person to complain about Sanchez, including a complaint involving sexual assault, and a separate complaint involving Sanchez having an affair with a married employee.
After Eliud’s complaint, Sanchez was demoted from his managerial position and moved to the produce department, where he worked for two months before his death.
It also turns out that the car that Sanchez got for both he and his wife was stolen; the car was registered to a man named Christopher Cooke.
Francisco Ramirez Garcia was working at a Vons in Newport Beach until July 2016 when he came back to work in Mammoth. He, Ruben Muniz, and Josue Corea-Vasquez all went shooting together for fun at Smokey Bear Flat one month before the murder occured. They used the AK-47 that is believed to have later been used to kill Sanchez.
Ruben Muniz testified that he stopped drinking and started going to church after the murder occured.
Right before going to investigators, Francisco Ramirez Garcia asked to go shooting with Josue Corea-Vasquez for a second time at Smokey Bear Flat, this time to “gather evidence” to use against him. Investigators later recovered casings and projectiles at the location from this occurrence, although it is still unclear how exactly this led investigators to have more evidence.
During his cross-examination, Eliud stated, “I don’t want to testify against my brother” and explained that he felt as though he was being forced to. He and his older brother are very close – in fact, they’ve shared a bedroom since the time he was born until the day Josue was arrested.
There are still a handful of witnesses lined up to take the stand, and the trial will take place at Mono County Superior Court for the entire upcoming week. The courtroom is scheduled to watch Corea-Vasquez’s entire confession tape, which exceeds two hours long – the confession that he now insists he was coerced to deliver.
The prosecuting attorney for the case is Mono County District Attorney David Anderson. The defense attorney is the Pasadena-based attorney Mark Davis. The judge assigned to the case is the Honorable Mark Magit.