Blake Stewart, a Maricopa County transportation worker, was supposed to set up traffic cones and barricades in the West Valley earlier this week.
Instead, investigators believe Stewart arranged a “rendezvous” with a woman in south Phoenix — a decision that cost the 47-year-old man his life.
Five people have been arrested in connection with the Phoenix man’s death, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced Thursday. The woman was the bait for a robbery, Arpaio said, but things went too far and ended in “a very vicious, vicious bloody murder.”
Following Wednesday’s arrests, a suspect led authorities to Stewart’s body, which had been dumped near Interstate 17 and New River Road, Arpaio said.
Arrested were Sonia Marichalar, the woman Stewart met; Connie Sermeno, whose manufactured home police say was the scene of the robbery; her son, Albert Sermeno; Jose Vergara, an illegal immigrant accused of assaulting Stewart with landscaping shears; and Carlos Medina.
Marichalar and Connie Sermeno are each being held on a $1 million bond. The other three are jailed without bond.
Stewart, a 16-year veteran of the transportation division, was last seen Tuesday morning, when leaving the Maricopa County Durango Complex southwest of downtown Phoenix. He was supposed to work in Buckeye, but his superiors became alarmed when he didn’t return that afternoon.
Arpaio said Stewart met with Marichalar at a convenience store on Southern Avenue and 24th Street, then they went to a home about a halfmile away, at 6437 S. 23rd St.
Arpaio didn’t divulge exactly why the two had met, but the sheriff did say, “It wasn’t to cook spaghetti.”
At the home, police say the three men brutally beat Stewart, tied him up and put him in his county-issued van for the drive to far north Phoenix. It was on this trip when investigators believe Vergara used the shears on Stewart, Arpaio said.
After the suspects dumped the body, they returned to the 23rd Street house, cleaned out the van and ditched it several blocks away.
But on the drive home, Arpaio said, they used Stewart’s credit card to buy gas in north Phoenix — the key break for the investigators.