Chance bar meeting ends fugitive’s run

A nationwide manhunt that led investigators from Ohio to Florida and Arizona ended in the Bay Area this week, after a serendipitous Google search revealed that one local resident’s new friend was wanted for murder.

On Wednesday, detectives from the Clark County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Office took custody of Troy Estep, 32, in connection with the slaying of Donald Barnette, 32, of unincorporated Springfield, Ohio. Estep had befriended the Daly City tipster in a bar in San Francisco’s Castro district.

“It’s a relief,” Gloria Barnette, the mother of the victim, said. “I’m glad they got him. It doesn’t bring Don back, but it means that he won’t be out there to do it anyone else.”

Barnette had originally been reported missing by his family in late February, and his remains were found on May13 in rural Clark County. Estep became a suspect after detectives learned the two men had planned to travel together and found items of Estep’s in the victim’s vehicle, found abandoned in Georgia.

Along the way, Daly City Lt. Jay Morena said Estep allegedly stole a vehicle in Florida and managed to reach Arizona before being arrested. Because Florida officials would not extradite him for a stolen car, he was released, eventually finding his way to the Bay Area.

“[Clark County detectives] knew he was west of them, but they didn’t know he was in California,” Morena said.

In October, Estep befriended an unidentified Daly City resident in a San Francisco bar, but his past was revealed when the person searched his name on Google. After discovering that he was a “person of interest” in a homicide investigation, the resident contacted the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Daly City officers waited outside the Southern Hills home for Estep to leave and arrested him a short distance away on a “ruse” traffic stop.

“We knew he’d be leaving the house, and we had probable cause to arrest him for murder,” Morena said.

In custody, the suspect admitted his involvement in Barnette’s death, hiding the body and fleeing Ohio in the stolen Jeep, police said. He spent several nights in San Mateo County jail in Redwood City before being loaded onto a plane on Halloween at 11:30 a.m.

Timeline of events

» Feb. 25, 2007: The family of Donald Barnette, 32, reports him missing from his home near Springfield, Ohio.

» May 13: Barnette’s remains are found in a rural, wooded part of Clark County, Ohio.

» May 16: Investigators announce that Estep is a suspect and say he may be in Florida, where the two men were said to have been traveling to before Barnette’sdeath.

» October: A Daly City resident befriends Estep in San Francisco and discovers his alleged connection to Barnette’s death.

» Oct. 23: Daly City officers arrest Estep after he left his friend’s house in the Southern Hills neighborhood.

» Oct. 31: Estep is taken into Clark County Sheriff’s Office custody at San Francisco International Airport and returned to Ohio to face murder charges.

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