San Diego Bay

La Jolla hotel worker stabs guest then drives car off pier near USS Midway

The hotel receptionist entered the guests' room under the guise of maintenance

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The body of a hotel receptionist was recovered Monday after he drove his vehicle into the San Diego Bay not long after stabbing a woman in her La Jolla hotel room, San Diego police said.

Divers with the Harbor Police Department recovered the driver's body from a Honda Accord, which had submerged about 40 feet under the bay near the USS Midway Museum at about 5:30 a.m.

Police later identified the driver as 23-year-old Aaron Tran, who was working as a receptionist at the Shoal La Jolla Beach hotel on La Jolla Boulevard.

Just after midnight Monday, Tran told two women he checked into the hotel that he needed to enter their room due to a leak in the room beside theirs, according to San Diego police.

The man then entered the room with a knife. There was no leak, police said.

“One of the women was actually either asleep or close to asleep in the bed. The other one walked with him back toward the bathroom and at one point he asked her to hold his phone," said SDPD Lt. Paul Phillips.

"She looked at his phone and on his phone he had written something to the effect of, 'Don't scream, I have a knife. If you scream, I'll stab you.' When she looked up, he was holding a knife," Phillips said.

The woman did scream and fought Tran off. Tran stabbed her in her upper chest area, police said. She has since been treated and released from the hospital for that wound.

Marty Howard heard the yelling outside his room. He opened the door to see several police vehicles.

"I was staying up in a room up here and I just heard a bunch of commotion and yelling and I heard two people running by my door," said Howard.

"I’ve never seen anything like it in this area, ever," Howard said. "It was really kind of shocking to even see something like that because it doesn’t happen down here."

Both women were in their 20s visiting from outside California, police said. The other woman who had been sleeping at the time of the stabbing was not hurt. Police said Tran then ran away and sped off in his Honda Accord.

About 30 minutes later, a patrol officer spotted the suspect traveling along Market Street in downtown San Diego shortly before 12:30 a.m. and tried to pull him over, according to police. The driver took off and police lost sight of him.

“About a half-an-hour later, we start getting information from the Harbor Police Department that there was a sergeant down there who saw that vehicle, or what ended up being that vehicle, driving the wrong way down near Harbor in Market," Phillips said.

Witness Gio Martinez and his group called 911 after seeing the vehicle speed off the lengthy pier and crash into the water.

"We heard the car doing burnouts, donuts down the street and Downtown by the buildings over there and we heard it gassing into the parking lot," Martinez said. "We thought they were gonna come in here and do donuts too, but instead like 80 miles an hour, they just went straight into the water. It did not stop. There was no brakes."

“It was me, my brother and my cousins. We were all relaxing, fishing in the corner. And that thing was like 10 feet away from my brother. Everything was crazy. Everything happened really fast," Martinez said.

Martinez said the car started to sink slowly but within 10 minutes it was fully submerged.

Tran didn't try to get out of the car and likely drowned, police said. When they recovered the car, officers noticed Tran had stab wounds around his collarbone.

Police are mesmerized by the case. Tran had only been working at the hotel for about six months and had no criminal history that they're aware of.

Tran worked at the hotel on Sunday until about 10 p.m., two hours before the incident. Police are not sure what he did during those hours but they're working to comb through surveillance footage and investigate.

Police found Tran's cellphone at the scene and plan to look through it and any other devices he had at his parents' house, where he was living.

No other details were immediately released, including a potential motive for the attack at the hotel.

San Diego police say the man behind a wheel is believed to be the same man who stabbed a woman at a La Jolla hotel. NBC's Audra Stafford reports.
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