The niece of a San Diego man killed with a machete and left dead among clutter on the patio of a home said her heart is shattered by her uncle’s grisly murder at the hands of a suspect she calls a monster.
“When I picture it [the killing] – it breaks my heart,” Maria Castellano told NBC 7 in an exclusive interview Friday, referring to the slaying of her uncle, Vicente Carrera.
“He [the suspect] treated him like he was an animal and just left him there like nothing,” Castellano said between sobs. “Who does that? Only a monster does that.”
Carrera, 43, was killed on Nov. 5. The weapon, police said, was a machete later recovered by homicide detectives.
The victim’s lifeless body was discovered on Nov. 6 buried beneath clothing, boxes and other clutter on the back patio of a home in the 6800 block of Waite Drive in the Rolando community.
San Diego Police Department (SDPD) Lt. Paul Rorrison said the victim had suffered blunt force trauma. Several people were at the home when police discovered the body, but no one was arrested.
On Thursday, SDPD officials released the name, description and photograph of the suspect in the machete killing: 22-year-old Vincent Garza Salas.
Police said Salas – an alleged methamphetamine user known to carry knives – was considered armed and dangerous. Investigators asked the public to report any details on his whereabouts to authorities.
Early Friday morning, the SDPD confirmed Salas had been taken into custody by U.S. Marshals from the West Valley Violent Offender Task Force in Phoenix, Ariz.
U.S. Marshal Deputy Matt Hersey in Phoenix told NBC 7 Salas was booked into Maricopa County Jail. SDPD officials said he will eventually be extradited to San Diego to face charges on suspicion of murder.
Hersey said authorities developed information that led them to believe Salas was hiding out in Phoenix. U.S. Marshals set up surveillance in the areas where they believed the suspect was staying. Officials spotted Salas leaving a house on a skateboard and, after identifying him as the homicide suspect, were able to arrest him, Hersey said.
The victim’s niece told NBC 7 the suspect’s arrest was a relief to Carrera’s family. Castellano said she’s grateful authorities caught the suspected killer and wants to see him brought to justice.
“I will be there the day that they prosecute him, and I hope that he is gone for life,” she said.
Castellano said Carrera, known as “Vinny” to loved ones, leaves behind three daughters. She said she and the victim shared a close brother-sister type of bond and his death has left an irreparable hole in her heart.
“My heart is shattered. He is gone,” she cried.
Castellano described her uncle as a respectful, playful man who had some substance abuse issues and got caught up with a bad crowd. She said Carrera had been trying to get clean.
She said nothing he could’ve done could justify his cold-blooded killing.
NBC 7 spoke with family members of the suspect Thursday.
Salas’ aunt and brother said they were shocked to hear he is the suspect in Carrera’s killing. Salas’ aunt, Misty, who declined to give her last name, said Salas and Carrera were close friends who ran errands together on the very day Carrera was killed.
The suspect's brother and aunt said they had not spoken to Salas since that day, and had no information on a possible motive. Misty also said she felt terrible for the victim’s family, especially since she knows Carrera’s family too.
“We were like family and for his family, just keep your heads up and I’m sorry this had to happen,” said Misty.
“We love him a lot. We are all hurting,” she added. “[Salas] He’s my nephew and the other one, we’ve known him almost 20 years and he’s like family too. You just want justice and whoever did it, you don’t want someone to get blamed that [doesn’t] need to get blamed for it."
Castellano told NBC 7 she has no idea who Salas is, and doesn’t know how her uncle knew the suspect.
According to police, Carrera did not live at the house where his body was discovered, but was known to “frequent” the home.
Residents said they had seen many people coming in and out of the house, and one neighbor told NBC 7 he heard screams coming from the home before police arrived and discovered the victim’s body on the patio.
The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information on this case should contact the SDPD’s Homicide Unit at (619) 531-2293 or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.