Cruising through the dark countryside on the outskirts of Watsonville is a normal weekend night for Brian Erbe, a 10-year veteran of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office. Usually those graveyard shifts are packed with loud parties to check on, drunks and the occasional act of violence, like last month's .
But there are moments when Erbe, who grew up in Watsonville, doesn't have a pending call and can break away for some pro-active policing. That's when he does things like check for anything awry in the thousands of acres of ag fields in South County. And around 3:40 a.m. Sunday, a car on a dirt road leading into a strawberry field caught Erbe's attention.
He talked with Watsonville Patch Tuesday afternoon about how .
Watsonville Patch: How did you come across this alleged crime as it was happening?
Erbe: I was on patrol on the graveyard shift ... I was out on Sillman Road and Highway 129. I'd been out there earlier for a party call somewhere on Sillman that turned out to be nothing. But as I'm basically at Sillman and 129, I Happen to see a vehicle in agricultural strawberry fields across the street about 100 yards into the field.
Patch: Is it normal to see vehicles out there?
Erbe: It is and it isn't. I was an ag deputy for awhile and anybody that works south county they know that especially in the harvest season, which it is kind of now, there's always people out there working so I wasn't 100 percent suspicious of it. I shined my spotlight on it trying to see if it was a work truck or what it was.
Patch: How did you figure out this wasn't normal?
Erbe: Maybe not more than 5-10 second later, the vehicle takes off, so that's what i thought was suspicious. It was actually traveling at a high rate of speed and being a strawberry field, there's nothing to hide from. So you see it drive the perimeter of the strawberry field and even from where I was at you could tell the vehicle was moving, it was moving fast. So as I see it kind of do the "u" and start heading back toward 129 I'm like 'Alright, now it's suspicious.
Patch: How did you catch the car?
Erbe: I get into 129 and pull up behind him and he was driving pretty fast. He passes a car, crosses a double-yellow line, so I pull him over for that. because even before then it was suspicious but I still needed a little bit more so I had the vehicle code violation. I pulled him over.
Patch: When did you discover this was far more serious than a speeding car passing illegally?
Erbe: I walked up on the passenger side, which I normally do on the freeway or the highway, and the passenger—you can tell she's been crying. Her makeup's going down her eyes and you can tell she's upset and something's going on.
There was a 21-year-old woman in the car with Bruno Munguia, a 32-year-old Hollister man.
Patch: What happened to the woman? Why was she crying?
Erbe: I asked her what's going on and she said "This guy just tried to rape me." So I yank her out of the car and I grabbed the keys from him and it was just this big all-of-a-sudden get her away from him and make sure he doesn't leave, so I detain him in handcuffs and my partner shows up and I sit down with her a little bit more.
The woman told Erbe she had met Munguia at a quinceñera about a year ago and had talked to him on the phone sporadically since then, but that their relationship wasn't romantic. She want to a Gilroy nightclub with friends Saturday night, but needed a ride home because the people she came with had been drinking. Munguia was there and offered her a lift, according to the deputy.
Patch: How did they end up in the field? What happened there?
Erbe: He had pulled over and said he had to go to the bathroom. The next thing she knows ... he's walked around to her side of the door basically climbs inside of the vehicle and ... some stuff went on.
Patch: What caused Munguia to stop?
Erbe: She said he saw a vehicle and that's why he got scared and took off.
The was Erbe's patrol car. The deputy suspects his spotlight spooked Munguia.
Patch: Do you usually patrol in South County?
Erbe: Normally I'm on the graveyard. I work Wednesday through Saturday night. I try to stay south. I was born and raised in Watsonville so I know the area. I normally work Aptos and Watsonville.
Patch: How often do you interrupt a crime in progress?
Erbe: It happens. That crime that happened on Sunday morning, that's rare. We usually get the call afterwards ... I'm glad it happened the way it did because if not, who knows?