- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. — Turned in by his terrified brother, Nikolay Soltys was captured hiding under a desk in his mother's back yard yesterday, ending a 10-day nationwide manhunt for the Ukrainian immigrant accused of butchering his pregnant wife, 3-year-old son and four other relatives.
Mr. Soltys, 27, had apparently slipped into the yard during the night despite round-the-clock surveillance of the home by detectives. He was carrying a backpack containing a knife authorities suspect was the weapon used in the killings.
Mr. Soltys was barefoot, unshaven, dirty and "looked like he could have been hiding in a field somewhere," Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas said.
The sheriff said Mr. Soltys was speaking freely to prosecutors, though he did not yet have a lawyer. Sheriff Blanas declined to release details.
The capture just a few miles from the scenes of the grisly Sacramento-area slayings ended a manhunt that had reached the East Coast. Authorities said they believe Mr. Soltys never left the Sacramento area, with its large Ukrainian and Russian communities.
Deputy Sheriff Bill Samuelson said Stepan Soltys was eating breakfast at around 7:45 a.m. when he looked through a glass back door and saw his fugitive brother under the desk.
Nikolay motioned for Stepan to be quiet, but Stepan instead assembled relatives in the garage, where police had installed a panic button. Neither the alarm nor a phone police had given the family worked, so the family piled into the car and fled, Mr. Samuelson said.
"The reaction when they saw him at least suggests the majority of the family feared him," said sheriff's Capt. John McGinness.
Surprised detectives saw the garage door fly open and then watched the car speed away. The family drove several blocks to a framing shop, where employee Jennifer Murphy helped Stepan call police.
"A man came up to me with his cell phone and he was all shaky. He kept pushing buttons 1-1-9, so I knew he wanted to dial 911," Miss Murphy said. "I brought him into the store and dialed 911 for him."
Dozens of deputies stormed into the cluttered yard and arrested Mr. Soltys without a struggle.
Authorities believe he had been staying in woods behind the house. He was carrying a metal potato peeler in his pocket and a map of the Sacramento area.
Sheriff's Detective Chris Joachim said officers saw Mr. Soltys' feet sticking out from under the desk, which was next to an old refrigerator. "He appeared as if he was going to run, but the inoperable refrigerator door was open, blocking his exit," Detective Joachim said.
The manhunt began the morning of Aug. 20, when authorities say Mr. Soltys slashed the throat of his 23-year-old wife, Lyubov, at their North Highlands home, then drove to another suburb to the home of his aunt and uncle, Galina Kukharskaya, 74, and Petr Kukharskiy, 75.
Police say Mr. Soltys killed the two and their 9-year-old grandchildren, Tatyana Kukharskaya and Dimitriy Kukharskiy, who lived next door.
Mr. Soltys, they said, went to his mother's house an hour later and cleaned up before fleeing with his 3-year-old son, Sergey. The boy was found dead a day later in a cardboard box on a trash heap.
Mr. Soltys had left notes in his abandoned car leading police to the body and offering a rationale for the killings, investigators said. All were stabbed to death because they or other relatives "spoke out" about topics Mr. Soltys considered private, authorities said. They did not elaborate.
Mr. Soltys, a former shoemaker in his homeland, had been rejected by the Ukrainian army as mentally unfit before gaining entry to the United States three years ago by claiming religious persecution in his homeland. At the time of the slayings, Mr. Soltys, who had a history of domestic violence in Ukraine, was unemployed and on welfare.
He was granted refugee status after telling U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials that he feared religious persecution in his home country. He was among hundreds of other Christian Pentecostals who have fled to the United States from the Ukraine as religious refugees, federal immigration authorities have said.
During the manhunt, more than a dozen of Mr. Soltys' relatives were put under police protection. Mr. Soltys was swiftly added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. And a $120,000 reward was posted for his arrest.
The search was expanded to Russian-Ukrainian communities in San Francisco and Oregon, and to Seattle, Charlotte, N.C., and Binghamton, N.Y., where Mr. Soltys once lived or had family ties. Deputies pursued more than 900 tips.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Soltys' brother would get the reward money.
The slayings had set the entire Ukrainian community on edge.
Michael Lokteff, president of the Slavic Community Center in Sacramento, said the city's Ukrainian community was "rejoicing that this man is off the streets."
"The news makes things much better for us, but we're still all suffering after this tragedy," said Alla Pugach, 29, who emigrated to Sacramento from Ukraine four years ago.


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