By Lauren Foliart
City News Reporter

Last Saturday, Justin Zuk, 26, was stabbed and later died as the result of a fight with two men in downtown Santa Cruz, on the corner of Locust and Cedar. His death marked the first homicide in Santa Cruz and the second for the county in 2008.

Zuk was stabbed in the neck and chest, and soon after paramedics transported Zuk to Dominican Hospital, he was pronounced dead at 2:55 a.m.

“He was a really nice guy who loved his dogs and would never hurt anyone,” said Marie Haka, a UC Santa Cruz alumna who knew Zuk. “He treated his friends really well and was a super peaceful, chill guy.”

Police arrested the first suspect, Benedict Hayward, 27, of Scotts Valley, Sunday morning after witnesses identified him as one of the men involved in the argument.

According to police, the second man, Dylan Bayly, 27, of Santa Cruz, came forward later Sunday night, admitting to involvement in the fight that resulted in Zuk’s death. After being interviewed, Bayly was booked into Santa Cruz County Jail on charges of homicide.

“Our sense is he realized we were getting close,” Captain Steven Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department said, “so he turned himself in at that point.”

Bayly and Hayward were leaving either the Red Room or the Cypress Lounge when they encountered Zuk and began fighting, according to the police report. The motive behind Zuk’s stabbing is still uncertain, as well as who was carrying the 4-inch folding knife, which police found Monday afternoon.

“Typically, in Santa Cruz, our homicides are usually gang-related — they’re usually gang or drug-related homicides,” Clark said. “Occasionally we have homicides that result from other tensions, usually with alcohol involved or one of our alcohol outlets involved, like the bars.”

While patrolling officers arrived too late to intervene in Zuk’s assault, local law enforcement has significantly reduced the number of crimes, including homicides, in the past 10 years. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office recorded four deaths from crime in 2007 and six in 2006.

Additional patrols, working overtime, interaction with local bars, and interference with gang-related activity have been effective in eliminating violent crimes in the Santa Cruz area.

Clark emphasized the work Santa Cruz has done with neighboring cities like Scotts Valley, Capitola, and Watsonville to reduce crimes, especially among gangs.

“We’ll continue our efforts,” Clark said. “There still are a lot of concerns, a lot of areas of violence, a lot of things that are just affecting the quality of life of the individuals in Santa Cruz. We want people to feel safe downtown.”

In addition, Santa Cruz police have worked with other city organizations such as Santa Cruz Neighbors, a community organization composed of residents and business representatives working to address and improve issues that affect the safety of the community.

“We can’t solely take the credit,” Clark said. “We’ve done a lot of work with community organizations such as Santa Cruz Neighbors, who have offered their helping hand. Several community groups in Santa Cruz have stepped up to the plate.”

Local law enforcement and community groups will continue to counter the destructive effects of crime on the city and its citizens.

“The interesting thing about Santa Cruz,” Clark said, “is crime really knows no jurisdictional boundaries.”