Suspect in SLO strangling is described by neighbors

Acquaintances paint differing pictures of Edmund Nungaray, who is accused of choking 46-year-old Deirdre Crowley and ultimately causing her death

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comOctober 12, 2012 

A man accused of strangling his neighbor was a surly type who once threw water on his alleged victim because he disapproved of her smoking, another neighbor said.

But the relative of another neighbor said the suspect was regularly pleasant to her.

Meanwhile, the female victim who was strangled was a kind person who mostly stayed in her apartment, said Tom Hoskins, who lived in the apartment below the two.

“She was a nice lady to me all the time,” Hoskins said. “And I helped her whenever I could.”

Police tape still covered the door of Deirdre Crowley’s San Luis Obispo apartment Thursday, nearly two weeks after Edmund Nungaray allegedly strangled her there. According to police reports, Nungaray, 59, was upset with Crowley because he thought she had stolen his cellphone. Crowley, 46, died several days after Nungaray allegedly choked her unconscious.

“On the day they disconnected her from the life-support system, her mother came,” Hoskins said. “And it really hurt me to know that she had passed.”

Crowley and Nungaray lived in opposite-facing apartments on a second floor at the Bullock Garden Apartments, near Broad Street. Hoskins, one of two neighbors directly below them, said he was friends with Crowley, but not with Nungaray.

“We just never got along,” he said, noting that Nungaray would call him “S.O.B. and other names” and disapproved of his smoking. “We had words that never came to a confrontation or anything. I just tried to stay away from him.”

Nungaray didn’t seem to have a job, Hoskins said. Nungaray’s ex-wife said he previously held various jobs, working nine different jobs in the 11 years they were married, between 1990 and 2001.

While Nungaray’s ex-wife said his demeanor changed after suffering a stroke, Hoskins said Nungaray didn’t seem ill. 

“He seemed normal mentally,” Hoskins said.

Pat Angel, a San Luis Obispo woman whose elderly father lives in the apartment below Nungaray’s — and across from Hoskins’ — agreed.

“In the little contact I had, he seemed fine,” said Angel, who saw Nungaray about every month during visits to her father.

Whenever she would see him, Angel said, Nungaray seemed pleasant.

“He always inquired after my dad when he saw me coming and going,” she said.

Crowley was on disability, Hoskins said, and she required lots of medicine. While her mother lived in the North County, Crowley never spoke of siblings and didn’t have children or a spouse.

“She got to where she was staying in her apartment all the time,” he said.

The night of the incident, police were called to the complex on three occasions. Nungaray told police he had given his cellphone to Crowley so she could set up his voice mail. Then, he charged, she wouldn’t return the phone, according to officials.

The two argued over the phone through the night, with Nungaray once threatening to break Crowley’s door down. The third time police arrived, they found Crowley slumped over, unconscious and not breathing, on her couch, officials said. 

Nungaray allegedly told police he “choked her out.”

According to court records, Nungaray pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault in 2002, receiving a year of probation. And according to a restraining order, he beat his brother with a baseball bat in 2004, though police were never called in that case.

According to San Luis Obispo police Capt. Chris Staley, officers who went to the scene of the disputes would not have known about Nungaray’s past acts of violence.

“We can’t run a criminal history with them just because we’re on a call,” Staley said.

Police would have known whether Nungaray had an outstanding warrant, he added, but they do not review court records unless they are conducting an investigation.

When police arrived the first two times, he said, nothing had happened to warrant an investigation.

“It was just a dispute between the neighbors,” he said, noting that neighbor disputes are common. “It’s not unusual for us to respond to one location numerous times.”

Hoskins said his place is well insulated, so he couldn’t hear the arguments that night. And the other downstairs neighbor — Angel’s father — is 99 years old and can’t hear. But a resident from the mobile home park next to the complex called 911 when she heard Crowley’s screams for help. 

When police arrived five minutes later, they saw Nungaray leave Crowley’s apartment, walk into his own apartment a few feet away, then return to Crowley’s and shut the door.

When the officers knocked on the door, Nungaray answered, sweating. Crowley, found a few feet away, was rushed to a hospital but never came out of her coma.

“I wish I could have heard something going on that night so I could have gone up and stopped it,” Hoskins said.

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