Joshua Tree National Park: Woman arrested, suspected of killing man

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A woman has been arrested on suspicion of murder near Joshua Tree National Park, after San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies found a man “lying in the road” dead with a gunshot wound during a welfare check Aug. 7.

news release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said that when officers were dispatched to the 7000 block of Nablee Road in Wonder Valley, they discovered a 56-year-old man had died on the scene. Representatives with the sheriff’s department confirmed via email that the deceased was Gary Simrak, but declined to provide details on whether it was a domestic dispute or whether drugs and alcohol were involved, citing the ongoing investigation.

The release said that the murder suspect, Daniella Hess Prieto, was subsequently arrested at a Chula Vista motel on Aug. 9. She’s currently in custody at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga with a $500,000 bail, online records show. The Hi-Desert Star reported that she also faces a separate charge, filed in the city of Big Bear, of maintaining a “drug house.”

While it’s not yet clear whether Simrak was involved in the same alleged drug operation, a news release from the Big Bear Sheriff’s Station in 2020 said that Simrak — who had been living in Big Bear City at the time — had previously been charged with possessing and selling controlled substances. During a probation search, deputies found large amounts of cash, methamphetamines and firearms and took him into custody, that release said.