July 26, 2002
2355 IST

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Hispanic youth arrested for Hollywood Hills murder

George Joseph

The Los Angeles police have charged a 26-year-old Hispanic with arson and the murder of four Indian Americans May 4.

The police said a search was on for more suspects.

LA resident Carlos Amador was arrested in Cerritos July 25, and has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of arson.

The arson resulted in the death of Gita Kumar, 43, her son Paras, 18, daughter Tulsi, 16, and mother-in-law Sitaben Patel, 63, at their Lakewood Drive bungalow in Hollywood Hills at around 11:15 pm.

Gita's husband Harish Kumar, 47, who reached the spot a little later, found the house burning and called the police.

The Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide division detectives led a handcuffed Amador into their Parker Center headquarters shortly after 1 pm the day of his arrest.

Robbery-Homicide Captain Jim Tatreau declined to specify a motive, but was quoted as saying: "We believe he was directly involved in the deaths."

The victims' charred bodies were found in the front portion of the house. The fire was listed as 'incendiary', which means it was set intentionally, fire personnel said, adding that it originated in more than one place.

Harish and wife Gita, who were married for 23 years, owned three motels including the popular Universal City Inn in Studio City, a LA suburb.

Paras, a freshman at the University of California, San Diego was home for the weekend. Tulsi was a student at the Reseda High School. And Sitaben Patel came to the US eight years ago after her husband died.

The county coroner's office has not released the cause of death. It is still not sure whether the four died in the arson or they were murdered before.

The police had earlier questioned Kumar. He underwent a lie detector test, too.

The mystery deepened when it was found that $3,000 to 4,000 was missing from the house. Kumar's attorney Pierpont Laidley said Gita was counting the collection from their motels, in small bills, the fateful night.

The fire department estimates the damage to the four-bedroom house into which the family moved three years ago to be around $75,000.

The Kumars migrated to California in 1989 from Texas after their elder son died in a motor accident.

Gita had returned to the US just the day before her murder.

Harish and Gita had started out as employees in a Texas hotel, relations said. Once in California, they bought the Universal City Inn in Studio City, and later opened the Royal Inn Motel in Los Angeles and the Hollywood Stars Inn on Sunset Boulevard.

They lived at the Universal City Inn for several years, before purchasing a house in Hollywood Hills for about $475,000, media reports said.

Detectives are now looking into Kumar's business relationships.

On the fateful day, Kumar had attended a volleyball tournament in Bakersfield with friends, after which he was eager to get home as Paras had arrived to spend the weekend, a relative said.

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