Agencies: California Highway Patrol - Sacramento
Last updated: 8 months ago
One of the enduring myths of the 1986 Cara Knott murder case is that it’s okay now for women drivers being stopped by authorities to pull over wherever they feel safe, not solely where the cop tells them to. It was against the law then, and it’s still against the law.
In the paranoia-filled aftermath of Highway Patrolman Craig Peyer’s arrest for first-degree murder, women were actually being arrested and jailed for refusing to stop for cops until they could pull into a place they felt safer.
Knott successfully lobbied then-Assemblyman Larry Stirling, a conservative Republican, to carry a bill giving women motorists the power to choose their own spot after being tagged by police. The bill had legs, but took a U-turn in the state senate, where in the end the Legislature pulled a reverse and upped the penalty for motorists who don’t pull over where and when ordered.
But such was Sam Knott’s style that he never ceased his efforts. While he didn’t change laws on that one front, he changed minds. By late 1991, he had convinced several local law enforcement agencies to adopt “a more sensitive protocol,” as authorities put it delicately, announcing the change in the way they handled nighttime stops for women.
The letters were pouring in—342 of them, some from as far away as Japan. Many were long, demanding and passionate; others decidedly perfunctory. All ended with the same plea to the California State Parole Board: Never release Craig Alan Peyer, prisoner D93018, the first California Highway Patrolman to be convicted of murder on duty.
“It’s unprecedented,” says Deputy District Attorney Rick Sachs, head of the San Diego D.A.’s lifer unit. “None of them are form letters. People [took] the time to write it all out.” In Sachs’ eight years in the division that oversees the most deadly criminals from America’s Finest City, he says he has never seen the current of anger and fear that preceded the potential unleashing of Peyer, who flunked his first parole hearing January 7.
But then, there has never been a murder case like this one.
“This crime shook the consciousness of the entire state,” parole board chairman Booker Welch told Peyer at the five-hour hearing, which was attended by a crush of media.
To comprehend the immense impact of Peyer’s crime, you have to go back to an era before the public’s shock-meter was blown away by the likes of O.J. and Rodney King, back to when the San Diego region was a million smaller in population, North I-15 was tumbleweed country, and drivers didn’t carry cell phones.
Go back to two days after Christmas 1986, when golden-haired San Diego State University student Cara Knott climbed into her white VW Beetle on a Saturday night. She had been nursing her flu-stricken boyfriend in Escondido and was headed back to the hillside El Cajon home where her family sat before the fireplace, watching Sleeping Beauty on video. As was her habit, Cara called first to tell her dad, Sam Knott, she was on her way.
It was the last the family heard from the 20-year-old. Nine hours later, her battered body was found, dumped from a bridge over what was then a little-used exit off I-15, remote Mercy Road, just north of Mira Mesa. She had been strangled.
January 2012 Officer denied parole