By Mark Gutglueck
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office will not all enter into a plea arrangement with Teala Campbell, whose action in tandem with David Krough on June 16, 2020 indirectly led to the death of Erika Lloyd, which will resolve the criminal case against her by her serving a two-month jail term.
Together with Krough, Campbell attempted to steal Lloyd’s black 2006 Honda Accord from where Lloyd had left it when she became stranded in the desert, near the intersection of Shelton and Two Mile Road in Wonder Valley. After taking Lloyd’s vehicle, Krough and Campbell managed to move it less than two miles from where they had found it before the damage it had sustained led to them abandon it. That relocation would have deadly consequences.
When rescuers mounted a search effort for Lloyd the following day, they were unable to find her because the sheriff’s department helicopter crew engaged in that effort concentrated its search in the area around where the car was found by authorities as did a rescue team on the ground that sought in vain to find Lloyd after it fanned out from the point where Krough and Campbell had left the car rather than the spot where Lloyd had started out on foot. The tale of how Lloyd met her sad fate at the transition of spring to summer in 2020 is a maddeningly frustrating story tinged with irony and mystery over Lloyd’s motivation in making a frenetic 1,687-mile sojourn over the course of five days that ended with her death when she wandered into an unforgiving section of the Mojave Desert.
Shortly after Lloyd walked away from her vandalized and damaged vehicle, Krough and Campbell came upon it with its front end embedded in a berm near the intersection of Shelton Road and Two Mile Road. When they did not see anyone in the vicinity of the vehicle, a black 2006 Honda Accord, Krough and Campbell sought to take the car for their own purposes. They used a pickup truck with either a winch or a chain and hook to separate the Accord from the berm. Campbell then sought to drive it south on Shelton Road. By the time the car was approaching Twentynine Palms Highway, roughly 1.98 miles from where Lloyd had abandoned it, it was severely overheating, and the couple left the car in the middle of Shelton Road dirt roadway, north of Highway 62, also known as Twentynine Palms Highway.
Neither Krough nor Campbell knew the circumstances that had led to the car they had attempted to steal being lodged in the berm near the Shelton Road and Two Mile Road intersection.
Five days before, on June 11, some 533 miles away, in Walnut Creek in the northern part of the state, the then-37-year-old Lloyd, a single mother who worked as a hairdresser, had left her son in the care of a friend and headed southward to the Mojave Desert generally and the Twentynine Palms National Monument, specifically. According to her sister-in-law, Lloyd was “under a lot of stress and wanted to get away and unplug.”
Statements made by her friends and family suggest that the COVID-19 crisis, which had forced a closure of beauty salons and negatively impacted Lloyd’s cash flow, had left her in a state of depression. Early in the second week of June, Lloyd deleted the contents of her Facebook page.
One of Lloyd’s friends moved to Twentynine Palms in April 2020. In the aftermath of what befell her, there was speculation that Lloyd had perhaps made the trip to see that friend.
Lloyd covered the distance between Walnut Creek and Joshua Tree National Park in something under 12 hours. She camped at the Jumbo Rocks campground within the national park on the night of June 11 and again on the night of Friday, June 12.
At the Jumbo Rocks campground, Lloyd made the acquaintance of two people, she told friends, one named “James” and the other “Christian.” Early on the morning of Saturday, June 13, leaving her camping gear at her Jumbo Rocks campsite in the care of James and Christian, Lloyd then drove the roughly 533 miles back to Walnut Creek, arriving later that day, and spent the night there with her son and her roommate. The following day, Sunday, June 14, she departed Walnut Creek, again without her son, to return to the Jumbo Rocks campground. Credible evidence suggests Lloyd re-arrived at Jumbo Rocks Campground in the late afternoon of June 14. In her journal that was recovered, Lloyd noted that James and Christian were not at the campground when she got there.
According to Lloyd’s mother, she spoke with her daughter for the last time on June 14 or June 15. She said Erika was “talking really fast” and it sounded like she was driving. There was no known telephonic contact between Lloyd and anyone after that.
Park rangers on Monday, June 15 came across Lloyd’s vandalized black 2006 Honda Accord in the parking area for the Indian Cove campground, some 21.9 miles from Jumbo Rocks but still within the confines of 1,234 square-mile Joshua Tree National Park. There was no camping equipment in the car or in its immediate vicinity when the rangers observed the vehicle. The windshield on the passenger’s side in the front had been broken, and the dashboard damaged. The rangers noted the vehicle’s presence in a report, and left a note on the car. That evening, the car had been removed.
The next day, Tuesday June 16, a video captured the car leaving the north entrance into/exit from Joshua Tree National Park at 1:20 p.m, and the car was later videoed passing a school in Twentynine Palms at 2:50 p.m.
On June 16, after being summoned by a report from a Wonder Valley resident, a California Highway Patrolman spotted Lloyd’s Accord parked on Shelton Road, east of Twentynine Palms, north of the intersection with Highway 62, facing south toward the highway, some 23 miles from Jumbo Rocks campground. The car was blocking the roadway such that it inhibited passage on Shelton Road, which is unpaved. The CHP summoned Twentynine Palms-based Bailey’s Auto Repair & Towing to tow the car. According to David Bailey, the proprietor of the tow company, the Accord’s rear window was broken, the front windshield was smashed on the passenger side, the airbag had deployed and the radio was damaged.
Bailey reported there was damage to the outside front of the vehicle in that the bottom of the radiator and the air conditioning condenser were pushed backwards as if the car had hit a very large object head-on. Bailey speculated that the car had run into a berm.
Indeed, that is what apparently occurred after Lloyd left the national park sometime and ended up on Shelton Road, an area with which she was thoroughly unfamiliar. Having traveled nearly two miles up Shelton Road from the beaten track of Highway 62, Lloyd sought to reverse course to head south back to Twentynine Palms Highway. With her forward vision partially obscured by the Accord’s damaged front windshield, she ran head on into the berm near Shelton Road and Two Mile Road, severely bringing the car to an immediate halt, damaging the radiator and leaving its undercarriage hung up on the berm, such that the car could not move forward and thus stuck in place as Loyd could not use reverse to dislodge the vehicle from the berm.
When the Accord struck the berm, the airbag deployed. She may or may not have sustained some order of head injury, and most likely emerged from the car disoriented and without, at any rate, any sense of the lay of the land confronting her. As Lloyd was unfamiliar with the desert area, she could have mistakenly thought the Marine Corps base in the distance was the town of Twentynine Palms and started to walk in that direction rather than retracking south down Shelto Road to Highway 62, which would have provided here with a far safer route back to civilization.
It is quite likely she mistook some of the structures on the Marine Corps base as buildings in the City of Twentynine Palms, and he had set out on foot on Amboy Road in an effort to get there.
While it was nowhere near as hot on June 26, 2021 as it would become in that area during July, August and early September, the temperature reached 96 degrees. Without water or shade, she likely suffered sunstroke. Her remains were found on January 29, 2021 in rough desert terrain near the intersection of Amboy Road and Danby Road, about 0.65 miles from where she had left her car.
On Wednesday, June 17, her family reported her missing, giving indication she might be in the area of Joshua Tree National Park. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department dispatched a helicopter to scour the area. That effort was not fruitful.
Lloyd’s camping gear was located at a camping site in Jumbo Rocks Campground. An expensive Yeti cooler she was not known to have owned was found among her possessions at the campsite.
The Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station was put on a special alert to be on the lookout for any sightings of her throughout the entirety of the more than 3,000 square mile desert area that includes Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley and outlying areas. Park Rangers began searching areas within the park. Sheriff’s deputies, including ones with canines, searched areas at the entrance of the park and its periphery, as well as along Highway 62.
The Joshua Tree Search and Rescue Team, guided by Doug Billings, a mining and cave expert who is familiar with the area and possesses global positioning, mapping and data-cataloging equipment that allows him and the team he is working with to carry out a methodical survey of vast, including desert, landscapes, engaged in an effort to find her or spot any signs that she was in the area.
On June 19, Lloyd’s parents caught a flight from Maryland to California in an effort to help with and intensify the search for their daughter. They posted photos of her and posters alerting the public to her disappearance in the area within the national park as well as in and around Twentynine Palms and Wonder Valley.
Friends and family persisted in trying to reach her by calling her cell phone. On June 20, it was answered by a man who said he had found the phone on June 18 “on Cottonwood,” that is on Cottonwood Drive in Twentynine Palms.
Lloyd’s parents remained intent on finding Erika, and intensified their efforts, leasing space on billboards in the Morongo Valley to feature oversized and highly visible photos of their daughter and make notice of her being missing.
The search parties, advised by Billings, had carried out much of their efforts along Highway 62 and in the general area around Highway 62 and Shelton Road, as the searchers moved out in ever-widening swaths. Those searches came up empty.
Seven months later, on Sunday January 31, 2021, Lloyd’s body was discovered by hikers in a field a quarter mile east of the 5200 block of Danby Road in Wonder Valley.
While it can be dismissed as speculation and conjecture, had the search for Lloyd been centered at the location where she had actually abandoned her car, given that helicopters were used in combing the area, she might have been spotted in relatively short order, perhaps as early as June 17 or 18, at which point she might yet have been alive.
For months, it was the assumption of the search crews and authorities that Lloyd had been at the intersection of Shelton Road and Twentynine Palms Highway when she walked away from her car. The Sentinel has learned that in December 2020, the sheriff’s department had come to the conclusion that someone other than Lloyd had driven the Accord to where it was found on June 16.
It was established that the damage to the front undercarriage of the car, the radiator and the air conditioning condenser resulted from the car hitting a sand berm near Shelton Road and Two Mile Road, most likely after 3 p.m. on June 16.
After Lloyd’s body was found, an eyewitness came forward to relate that on June 16, 2020 at approximately 4:50 pm, a woman fitting Lloyd’s description was wandering around in a disoriented state on the desert field in the area of Two Mile Road/Danby Road, near where her remains were found more than seven months later.
According to the sheriff’s department, around 6:30 p.m. on June 16, 2020, Krough, then 27, and Campbell, then 33, came across the Accord, which was lodged in the berm. That evening, after Krough used a device hooked up to his truck to yank the car away from the berm, Campbell sought to drive the Accord to a property76000 block of Raymond Drive. When it became obvious the car was undriveable, they left it, on Shelton Road not too distant from Twentynine Palms Highway.
Krough and Campbell by their action may have indirectly contributed to Lloyd’s death. The displacement of the car by some two miles from where Lloyd apparently abandoned it and set out on foot before becoming disoriented and lost had the effect of drawing the search parties away from the spot where, seven months later, her skeletal remains were found.
On June 6, 2021, the sheriff’s department publicly identified Campbell and Krough as the individuals who had moved Lloyd’s car from where she had left it. The investigation intensified and on July 8, 2021, both Krough and Campbell were arrested. Krough who had prior convictions recorded outside of San Bernardino County was charged with vehicle theft and being a felon in possession of a firearm, a charge which grew out of his having the gun when he was arrest. Campbell had prior convictions for burglary, a firearms violation, forgery, receiving stolen property and utility theft. In 2013 the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office tried and failed to shoehorn her into felony convictions for manufacturing of a controlled substance and possession of concentrated cannabis, and she instead entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor possessing marijuana for sale. She was initially being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
She has since been freed, but is awaiting trial on the vehicle theft charges.
Krough was charged on July 21, 2021 with a felony – Vehicle Code C10851(A)-F charge of taking vehicle without the owner’s consent/vehicle theft relating to his action on June 15, 2020/ He entered a guilty plea on that charge on January 20, 2022 and was sentenced to a straight 100-day jail term. He was given credit for time served, as he had already by that point been incarcerated for an actual 100 days.
He was back in court on December 22 for a hearing with regard to making restitution. That issue was not resolved and a further restitution hearing has been set for January 31, 2023 in Department M2 at the Joshua Tree Courthouse.
Campbell, who is represented by Roger Chien, Rachel Gelber, Jolina Chavez, William Sasnett, Joshua Matic and David Chesley, has pursued a legal strategy of seeking a negotiated plea by which she would not be given more than two months of jail time. The prosecution, however, has refused to accept the defense offers in that regard.
On December 22, Judge Kory Mathewson set a pre-preliminary hearing for January 31, 2023, ordering her to appear at that proceeding which is to be held in Department M2 in the Joshua Tree Courthouse as well as for a preliminary hearing set for February 2, 2023, also in Department M2.
By Mark Gutglueck