Not long after he put out the fire that burned Dystiny Myers’ body, a firefighter was in an ambulance questioning one of the men now accused of the teen’s murder.
For firefighter Cur tis Rhodes, it was an unusual situation, taking on a detective-like role.
“I just wanted to get the facts,” Rhodes testified Tuesday.
Rhodes testified in a pretrial hearing on a defense motion to suppress some prosecution evidence. While San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera has yet to rule on that issue, Rhodes’ testimony offered new insight into the case.
According to Rhodes, he responded to a fire off Parkhill Road outside Santa Margarita about 5 a.m. on Sept. 26, 2010. The first on the scene, he said it took him two minutes to put out the blaze. Roughly 15 minutes later, after other firefighters had arrived, a frightened man with a bloody face approached the first responders.
As the firefighters began to treat the man, Cody Miller of Fresno, he said he feared for his life and suggested a murder had occurred. Eventually, an ambulance arrived, and he was placed inside. Rhodes said his captain ordered him to go inside the ambulance to protect the medic since Miller — high on methamphetamine and fearful — had become agitated.
During a 20-minute conversation that occurred before sheriff’s deputies arrived, Rhodes asked Miller what had happened.
“He said they followed along with whatever Mr. Hill wanted them to do,” Rhodes said, referring to Ty Michael Hill, one of the five defendants in the case.
According to Miller’s account, Rhodes said, the following occurred:
Coerced to participate in the crime, some of the defendants had held him down while Hill sexually assaulted him with a baseball bat. The group forced him to punch Myers with his fists, though he said Hill “finished her off,” without elaborating.
Later, after the group had driven from Nipomo to Santa Margarita, Miller was forced to carry Myers’ body, which had been placed in a duffel bag, to the dump site. Afterward, the group turned on him, hitting him in the face with a shovel, but he managed to get away. He hid in a nearby ravine until the firefighters arrived.
“He said, ‘They know where my family lives,’ ” Rhodes testified. “ ‘They’re going to hurt or kill my family. You need to help me.’ ”
Based on the information Miller gave Rhodes — and later, to sheriff’s deputies — a Cal Fire investigator and a sheriff’s detective searched the fire scene and found Myers’ remains in a hole.
Several detectives were then sent to find the other suspects, using the description Miller had given of a truck. Some of them were sent to perform surveillance at the Galaxy Mobile Home Park in Nipomo, where the suspects were believed to be headed.
Just before 11 a.m., Hill and Jason Greenwell were apprehended. Frank Jacob York was taken in later in the day, just before 6 p.m.
A final suspect, Rhonda Maye Wisto, was apprehended separately.
Testimony continues in the hearing this morning.