An alleged kidnapper who sparked a two-day manhunt through the Santa Clarita Valley and across Southern California was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on the criminal charges filed against him.
Stephen Merle Houk appeared in a courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles for a preliminary hearing.
During a preliminary hearing, prosecutors present evidence in the case, after which the defense can respond. When it’s done, the judge can then decide if the case should go to trial.
“Houk was held to answer on all charges and allegations,” Shiara Davila-Morales, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said Tuesday.
“The defendant will be arraigned on the felony information on Sept. 25 in Department 131 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center,” she said.
On the morning of May, 1, Houk and his alleged victim – who is the mother of the children – became engaged in a prolonged, heated argument inside a motorhome, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell revealed at a news conference in May.
The argument escalated, he said, and the suspect pointed a handgun at the victim, then threatened to kill her and harm their 3-year-old child.
The suspect also proceeded to assault the victim during the argument, and headbutted her, causing injury to her, McDonnell said in May.
Houk then forced the victim out of the motorhome and into a traffic center parking lot. He then fled with two small children – a 11-month-old and a 3-year-old.
Within a couple of hours, a Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s deputy contacted the victim who said she had been threatened and battered by him.
Soon after, deputies located Houk’s motorhome on Newhall Ranch Road and, once sufficient units were in place, tried to stop him after a 2-mile pursuit.
The motorhome, however, did not stop. At a certain point, SCV Sheriff’s Station officials decided to call off the pursuit out of concern for the safety of the children.
In a light rain, CHP officers tracked the motorhome through the Grapevine and, eventually, on to the northbound lanes of Highway 99.
After more than 100 miles, the pursuit ended in an almond grove north of Bakersfield, near Shafter.
The driver climbed out of the motorhome on the driver’s side, and ran into the almond grove.
CHP officers found the two children safe inside the motorhome.
Once the suspect was out of the motorhome he ran for three hours through the almond grove, hiding in foliage.
He later jumped onto a train which he believed was bound for Arizona.
Instead, the train went to Barstow, where, on May 3, detectives found Houk hiding inside an empty compartment of a rail car, officials said.
Houk was arrested on suspicion of 14 felonies, including kidnapping with a use-of-firearm allegation, assault with a deadly weapon, making criminal threats, domestic violence, child endangerment and felony evading arrest.
His bail was set at $1 million.