Police calls preceded fatal assault in SLO

Police records show officers were called several times to stop neighbors’ quarrel before man allegedly choked woman

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comOctober 10, 2012 

San Luis Obispo police had already responded twice to a disturbance at the Bullock Garden Apartments the night of Sept. 29 before they found an unconscious Dierdre Crowley slumped over on the couch in her apartment, according to police reports.

Crowley, who died from her wounds last week, had allegedly been choked by her neighbor over a missing cellphone, the report states.

Now Edmund Nungaray — who allegedly became threatening and violent after suffering a stroke — is charged with murder in a case that may have a mental health component.

While Nungaray, 59, was arraigned Wednesday and his case was postponed, new information emerged about the incident. According to a report filed by the San Luis Obispo Police Department, the following occurred on the night of Sept. 29:

Around 7 p.m., police responded to a call about an argument at the Bullock Garden Apartments, near Orcutt Road and Bullock Lane. When they arrived, Nungaray told them he had given his cellphone to Crowley, 46, a neighbor in the complex, so she could help him change his voice mail. Nungaray was upset, he told police, because Crowley had not returned the phone. Crowley said she did not have the phone and allowed officers to search her apartment for it. The officers also called the phone number and did not hear it ring.

The two neighbors agreed not to talk to each other, and the officers left.

An hour later, Nungaray called police, saying he was going to break Crowley’s door down to get his phone. Crowley again denied having it, and the officers again called the missing phone and heard no ring.

Nungaray seemed to calm down, saying he planned to call the apartment manager to have Crowley evicted. The officers advised both neighbors to stay in their apartments and not contact each other, then they left.

A little over five hours later, a third neighbor went outside to smoke a cigarette when she heard “desperate screams” coming from Crowley’s apartment and heard a woman’s voice screaming “Help me!” multiple times. She also heard a man yell, “I’ll choke you out!”

The resident called 911, and the same officers who responded earlier arrived about five minutes later. As the officers positioned themselves on a stairway, they saw Nungaray exit Crowley’s apartment, walk over to his apartment, then shut the door. Then they saw him exit his apartment, return to Crowley’s and shut and lock the door behind him.

When the officers knocked on Crowley’s door, Nungaray answered, with sweat covering his forehead and face. When officers asked what was happening, Nungaray said, “I choked her out.”

When the officers entered, they found Crowley slumped over on a couch, not breathing and without a pulse. Paramedics took her to French Hospital Medical Center as the officers continued to investigate, finding a cord in Nungaray’s doorway. Several times, Nungaray asked if Crowley was all right, even asking at one point if she was dead.

Nungaray said Crowley had been unconscious for about half an hour.

Less than a week later, Crowley was taken off life support, and attempted murder charges against Nungaray were increased to murder.

While Nungaray did threaten to knock down Crowley’s door during the second call, officers — after assessing the feud — didn’t think there were grounds for arrest. And after a calmed Nungaray agreed to take the dispute up with the apartment’s management, the officers didn’t think he would act further.

“We didn’t feel she was in danger,” said Lt. Jeff Smith of the San Luis Obispo Police Department. “They’re arguing over a cellphone.”

Neighbor disputes are frequent — and officers often respond to the same place more than once, police say.

“We get people all the time who say they’re going to take matters into their own hands, but never take action on it,” Smith said. “We understood his frustration, but we didn’t think his frustrations would lead to what happened.”

Nungaray had previously been charged with a series of misdemeanors, including battery and violations of protective orders. Nungaray’s ex-wife, Pamela Smolarski, said Nungaray wasn’t violent or mentally ill when they were married, between 1990 and 2001. But, she added, he changed after suffering a stroke that could have damaged his brain.

“After we divorced, he became more erratic,” she said.

The stroke, said Smolarski — who is a nurse — occurred after a heart valve replacement. Because of improper medication, she said, he suffered numerous seizures, leading to the stroke.

“He had mental health problems, and I don’t know if they were properly addressed,” she said.

When Nungaray continued to pester her at home and work, she filed a restraining order in May. While he had a temper, she didn’t think he was capable of murder.

“I was surprised because I didn’t think he’d ever physically hurt anyone,” she said.

But, according to court records, he became more aggressive. He beat his brother with a baseball bat in 2004.

“I have been attacked by Edmund where he used a bat (baseball type) to strike me several times,” his brother, Thomas, wrote in a 2009 restraining order.

According to a 2004 restraining order filed by his mother, Gertrude, Nungaray had once gone to a group home for anger management, but continued to make threats.

“His lack of anger control is such that I am afraid he is going to go beyond words, and become physical towards me,” she wrote.

When contacted by The Tribune, Thomas Nungaray said family members have been estranged from Edmund Nungaray for some time.

“The family regrets what has happened,” he said.

According to the neighbor who called police, Nungaray and Crowley had fought for months. In a restraining order filed in May 2011, Crowley claimed to be in an abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend.

Seventeen months later, she would be dead, allegedly at the hands of another man.

“I think the whole situation is very sad,” Smolarski said.

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