Ke Chieh Meng was friendly to everyone she met.
Meng would prepare meals for visitors and load up relatives and neighbors with the apples, pears, mangos, lemons and vegetables that she grew in the backyard of her Riverside home. She was often photographed doting on strangers’ pets. And Meng would dole out food and cash to the homeless people she met while walking her dogs.
“She finds enjoyment in giving. What makes her happy is seeing everybody else happy,” said her son, James “Yi” Bai.
But Riverside police say a transient turned against Meng, 64, stabbing her to death on April 3 as she walked her dogs on Golden Avenue close to home. Darlene Stephanie Montoya, 23, of Monterey Park, has been charged with murder.
Montoya is due to enter a plea on April 22. She is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
That sum stands in contrast to the bail Montoya was required to pay — $0 — under the state’s emergency COVID-19 bail schedule for misdemeanors and less-serious felonies after she was arrested March 30 after police said she used a skateboard to assault a woman a couple of miles away. Montoya was cited and released that day.
A person accused of assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, as was Montoya, can be sentenced to up to four years in state prison if convicted. That length of confinement is within the threshold for the $0 bail schedule enacted in April 2020 by the state Judicial Council at the urging of California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
Cantil-Sakauye sought to reduce the jail population in order to limit the spread of the virus in lockups and prevent court employees from catching the disease. Although the Judicial Council rescinded that bail schedule in June, Riverside was among the counties that took advantage of the option to retain it.
Bai, 31, said he spoke to the victim of the skateboard attack and found what she said to be unnerving.
The victim said Montoya told her, in the presence of police, “The next time I try to kill you, it will be with a knife. I will stab you to death.”
To Bai, the safety of the public from Montoya should have outweighed concerns about COVID-19.
“I don’t believe she should have been out so quickly because of that. If this person is dangerous to society, you do not let them out,” he said.
Police determined that Montoya was most likely under the influence of illegal drugs and arrested her for that, along with murder, said Officer Ryan Railsback, a department spokesman. Police could have confined her on a mental-health hold only if they believed she was unable to care for herself because of mental illness and posed an immediate danger to herself or others for that reason, Railsback said.
Riverside County could be ending its use of the $0 bail, which would require a vote of county judges.
“As the circumstances surrounding the pandemic have changed, both for the better and worse, we have continually re-evaluated our COVID-19 related orders and procedures,” Riverside County Superior Court Presiding Judge John M. Monterosso said in a written statement. “Now that the situation is improving, we will be discussing additional changes in the future, including to the emergency bail schedule, but will be cautious as COVID-19 has been very unpredictable.”
That change can’t come soon enough for Bai.
In 1998, when he was 8, he and his mother immigrated from China to the United States, initially settling in Garden Grove. Meng’s brother and sister already lived in Orange County.
“She spoke three words: Yes, no and OK, same three words I knew,” Bai said. She chose Garden Grove because it had few Chinese speakers who would prompt him to converse mostly in his native tongue, Bai said. “She wanted me to be able to learn English.”
Meng worked for 22 years as a waitress, putting her son through UC Davis. She moved to Riverside in 2009.
“She really sacrificed the second part of her life. She wanted a better education for me. She didn’t come here for anybody else,” he said.
Bai now lives in Dallas and owns a telecom company. He said he was proud when he was able to pay off his mother’s mortgage and car. Bai established a GoFundMe page in her name.
Meng was walking her dogs Xiao Bao (“Little treasure” in English, Bai said) and MiMi when she was assaulted.
Her last act after being mortally wounded, he said after reviewing surveillance video, was to pull on the leash to keep them away from her attacker.
“She was scared in that moment that her two dogs were going to try to go after that person and get killed as a result. That’s the kind of woman she really was. … I wonder if she could have been a little more selfish, let loose of the leash and call for help right away,” he said.
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Author: Brian Rokos
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