Erica Alonso may not have been murdered, say California investigators, but it’s still not clear how her body ended up where it did two months after she disappeared following a Valentine’s Day date with her on-again-off-again boyfriend in 2015.
“Some days are really difficult and other days I’m just numb. It still just doesn’t feel real,” says Elaine Navarro, a close friend of Alonso, whose death has been attributed to a lethal combination of the party drug GHB and alcohol.
What does seem heartbreakingly clear to anyone familiar with the case is that somebody appears to have “dumped” Alonso’s body near the remote fire road in the Cleveland National Forest where she was discovered on April 27, 2015, roughly 25 miles from her home in Laguna Hills, Calif.
But even more frustrating to Alonso’s family and friends is that even if police do learn who moved Erica’s body to the isolated location where it was found, the maximum penalty they’d face would be equivalent to petty theft – one year in county jail and a fine ranging between $1,000 and $10,000.
Which is where Orange County politician Janet Nguyen [R–Garden Grove] enters the picture. When Alonso’s distraught, angry father first told Nguyen about the seemingly meager penalties for anyone who conceals an accidental death, her first thought was: “This is sickening. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s not possible. This has to be a mistake.’ ”
Nguyen recently introduced legislation in Sacramento, which has become known as “Erica’s Law,” that would stiffen the penalties – from a misdemeanor to a felony – for anyone who moves a body after an accidental death. What’s more, it would increase the amount of time investigators would have to charge a suspect from one year to three years.
“There is enough evidence to suggest that this [Alonso’s death] was not an accident,” says Nguyen. “But law enforcement’s hands are tied in this case. My desire is to help families like Erica’s finally get closure.”
Alonso’s disappearance had baffled investigators up until the moment her decomposing body was discovered in a dry creek bed a year ago. She was last seen driving off in her car alone – which was found a month later near the home she shared with her parents – after an argument with her boyfriend following a night of partying.
Despite the questions still surrounding Alonso s death, investigators claim they haven’t shelved her case. “We don’t have the answers we would like,” says Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Mark Stitcher. “But homicide detectives will continue to pay attention to this case in the hopes of one day finding out who is responsible.”