A body found inside a stone pillar outside a Lancaster grocery store on Saturday afternoon may be the remains of a car theft suspect who was fleeing from authorities earlier in the week, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department lieutenant told KTLA.
After a strong odor led to the grisly discovery, authorities said it's possible the body belongs to a man who ran into the store on Monday — fleeing from deputies after a traffic stop on suspicion of stealing a vehicle.
The body was found inside a stone pillar located just outside the WinCo Foods grocery store in the 700 block of West Avenue K, authorities said. Deputies were called to the scene at 2:40 p.m.
Hours earlier, a manager at the grocery store began smelling a strong odor coming from the pillar, according to sheriff's Lt. John Corina.
The manager called a plumber, thinking there was some sort of sewage problem there. When the plumber arrived and started to knock away the pillar's stone, a leg and tennis shoes were visible, Corina said.
At that point, law enforcement officials were called to the scene.
Upon investigating the finding, authorities linked it to an incident earlier in the week.
On Monday, a man was pulled over by deputies after he was suspected of driving a stolen vehicle, Corina said. He ran into the grocery store and went onto the rooftop as he fled from deputies.
They were unable to get ahold of him at the time.
The rooftop has access to the inside of the stone pillars where the body was found, according to Corina. It's possible the man fell or climbed into the pillar to hide from law enforcement.
But with the recent heat wave and the density of the stone pillar, he may have then gotten trapped and unable to breathe, Corina said, describing it as a "horrible way to die."
"It's unusual. I've never seen anything like this before — some body inside a column," Corina said. "Somebody tries to hide from the police and they can't get out and end up dying in there.
"That's what it looks like anyway," he added.
Authorities had to wait until the evening for the coroner to arrive. Officials then began to work to break open the pillar so the body could be removed and identified.
Video from the scene showed first responders removing the body from inside the pillar just outside the grocery store's entrance. Firefighters were seen chipping away at the pillar's stone material as the body inside became increasingly visible.
A crime scene cleaners truck was seen in front of the grocery store on Sunday as customers walked in and out of the business.
Area residents told KTLA that they were stunned to hear of the discovery.
“It’s terrible,” Sunshine York-Hanger said. “I was just thinking, you know, I wonder if he was trying to get anybody’s attention and nobody would know. Nobody would know where it’s coming from, the voice, you know, if that’s the case. Because I’m hoping it was instant if that was what happened.”
Anyone with information can contact the Sheriff's Department's Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Anonymous tips can be left by calling 800-222-8477.
KTLA's Juan Flores contributed to this story.