One of the suspects arrested Thursday, after a police chase on Ramon Road ended in a crash at Cathedral Canyon Drive, has now been charged in the murder of 26-year-old Palm Desert resident Conrado Pizarro.
La Quinta resident Kurtis Knigge, 18, was taken into custody following the police pursuit and was charged with murder at his arraignment in Indio Monday morning.
News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 were in the courtroom. Knigge pleaded not guilty to murder, as well as a felony count of shooting at a vehicle and sentence enhancing allegations of using a firearm and inflicting great bodily injury.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Victoria Cameron set his bail at $2 million and ordered him back to court Jan. 7 for a felony settlement conference.
Deputies with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said Knigge was also wanted in connection to various residential burglaries throughout the Coachella Valley.
“Mr. Knigge was a person of interest in several residential burglaries in the cities of La Quinta, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and vehicle thefts as well,” said Deputy Armando Munoz.
Pizarro was shot on December 3 while he sat in his car at the Shell gas station at Washington Street and Avenue of the States. The suspect’s car was pulling up to the gas pump and the driver cut Pizarro off as he was leaving the station. When Pizarro reversed to make contact with the suspect, he was shot through the window of his car. The events leading up to the shooting were captured on surveillance video.
Pizarro died at the hospital on Friday, December 5.
Deputies investigated the suspect’s white SUV from the surveillance video and connected it to one of the burglaries Knigge was being investigated for, according to Deputy Munoz with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Authorities finally caught up with Knigge after spotting a stolen Mercedes out of Rancho Mirage Thursday afternoon near I-10 and Bob Hope Drive.
The driver of the stolen vehicle led police on a high-speed chase on westbound Ramon before crashing at Cathedral Canyon Drive around 3:30 p.m. Three people were arrested after running from the crash scene; Knigge was one of the passengers.
“We believed Mr. Knigge to be armed and dangerous at the time and we wanted to Mattempt to arrest him and interview him for the crimes that he is possibly involved in,” said Munoz.
According to a release from the sheriff’s department, the driver in the high-speed chase was a 17-year-old from Beaumont, and the other passenger arrested was a 16-year-old female from Palm Desert.
The Cathedral City Police Department, the California Highway Patrol Air Unit and the Coachella Valley Violent Crime Gang Task Force all assisted in capturing the suspects. Knigge was injured by a K9 while being apprehended and was treated at the hospital for injuries he sustained.
The teenager driving the stolen car caused five isolated crashes along the path of the pursuit. Deputies said two people were taken to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries.
The 17-year-old was arrested for felony evading, possession of stolen property, auto theft and felony resisting arrest. The 16-year-old female passenger from Palm Desert was arrested on an outstanding warrant, according to the sheriff’s release.
In addition to the murder charge, Knigge was arrested for residential burglary, auto theft, resisting arrest and a felony arrest warrant. Because these crimes occurred all over the Coachella Valley, Deputy Munoz said multiple agencies and investigators were involved in tracking him down.
The announcement of Knigge’s arrest is great news for the family of Conrado Pizarro, who spoke to News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 on Thursday as they looked for answers into his tragic death. Conrado left behind a daughter, who just turned six years old on Thursday.
“All families involved in homicides do want justice for their family member and I know that it is a good thing when that occurs quickly,” said Deputy Armando Munoz. “He [Knigge] does still have to be arraigned and go through due process but I’m sure they do feel better about the possible person who committed the crime being arrested.”
Pizarro’s family started a GoFundMe page to help pay for his funeral service.
Bail for Knigge has not been set. He’s scheduled to appear in court Monday for arraignment. KESQ and CBS Local 2 will bring you more details as the homicide case moves forward in court.