Sheriff’s Office reopens ‘lost’ King City death case Voices investigated the possible homicide of Aracely Zavala

By Royal Calkins

As a result of a year-long Voices inquiry into a possible homicide, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office has reopened its abbreviated investigation of the 2015 traffic death of longtime King City resident Aracely Zavala. 

Over the past few weeks, a detective and a commander have been assigned to question South County residents including Zavala’s associates and, this time around, associates of the man who ran over her in an SUV in January 2015.

The driver, King City funeral home owner Robert Eddington, told the California Highway Patrol that he did not know Zavala and did not mean to kill her. But friends and relatives of hers told officers that she had been involved in a paid sexual relationship with him and was in fear for her life as a result.

The CHP soon turned the investigation over to the sheriff’s office, but it appears no one was assigned to the potential homicide case for more than a year — an exceptionally unusual occurrence. The first detective on the case is known to have questioned Eddington but it can’t be determined if he interviewed anyone else. Any reports written by him and a second investigator inexplicably have disappeared from sheriff’s office files — both digital and paper records. That, too, is exceptionally unusual.

Garrett Bohner, who was undersheriff at the time, the second-ranking official under then-Sheriff Steve Bernal, told Voices that the sheriff’s investigative unit did no work on the case for at least 15 months. 

Eddington had contributed to the 2014 sheriff’s campaign of Bernal, who lives in King City, and was closely involved with many of Bernal’s largest campaign contributors.

Bernal’s successor, Tina Nieto, confirmed that the death is now being probed.

“I have asked my investigators to look at what we have or don’t have and we have spoken with the family,” she said. “We will see where it goes from there.”

The second sheriff’s detective belatedly assigned to the case under Bernal, Dan Robison, told Voices that he was given so little time to work on it that the department’s efforts amounted to “a cover-up.” Zavala’s family persuaded the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office to look into the death years ago but the brief inquiry was fruitless. Bernal has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Since publication of the Voices article in March, several South County women have said in interviews that Zavala’s relationship with Eddington had begun several years before her death. One woman who lived with Zavala said Eddington stopped at her house several times to pick Zavala up. She and other friends said Zavala had told them that Eddington sometimes arranged for her to dance at parties, including “swinger” parties. In most instances, they learned details of the relationship only from Zavala and not from direct observation.

As Voices reported in March, several friends of Zavala, 42, say she told them she had met often with Eddington at his funeral home and was bothered by some of their activities there. A former boyfriend, Paul Range, said she had been pressing Eddington to pay her more and had threatened to expose his sexual preferences unless he paid for her silence. Other friends said she was acting strangely, and fearful, in the days leading up to her death.

On a winter night nine years ago, she was standing or walking on a dark road south of King City when she was hit from behind by Eddington’s Chevy Tahoe, which the CHP determined was traveling close to 60 mph. She was killed instantly. Why she was on the road has never become clear. Also unknown is whether they were together before the collision

Although the mother of two had been a serious drug user for years, the Coroner’s Office found no traces of drugs in her system. The death was ruled an accident even though the CHP had alerted the office to an apparent relationship between the driver and the pedestrian.

Eddington has denied intentionally killing her. He has declined to be interviewed. Reached by phone at his business on May 31, he said he had no comment.

One of Zavala’s sister’s, Clementina, said, “‘We’re hopeful this investigation will finally reveal the truth and justice will be had for Aracely.”

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About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

5 thoughts on “Sheriff’s Office reopens ‘lost’ King City death case Voices investigated the possible homicide of Aracely Zavala

  1. The night she was ran over it was not as dark as “he” claimed. It was a full moon. So drive that road on a full moon and you don’t need street lights! She didn’t have. Drugs in her system because she was cleaning up her life and she didn’t want to be with him anymore but 8 plus years of being “HIS” he didn’t want to let her go. He no doubt suffered from a serious crime of passion here. The fact he had ties to the sheriff and got away with it should be extra punishment when the sentence is given. The sheriff who contributed to the cover up committed many felonies and ethical crimes. He should accompany Mr. Eddington in prison as well!

  2. I feel this case should be handled by an outside agency. The agencies here were well aware and did nothing. The only reason now is because of community pressure.

  3. The CHP has jurisdiction on all paved county roads. The only reason the CHP can have for turning the investigation over to the Sheriff’s Office is if they determined the vehicle left the road before killing her. Otherwise, it’s the CHP’s investigation and the Sheriff’s Office should have nothing left to say on the matter unless it’s to the FBI investigating the Sheriff’s gross negligence and willful disregard

  4. It would not surprise me that Bernal and his FOLLOWERS covered this up. It is pathetic to watch what was once your friend and comrade in uniform, to promote to higher ranks and transform into swollen heads of ego and a false sense of power. It consumes them and completely changes them.

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