Transient charged with murder in stabbing of L.A. Metro passenger

Calling the fatal stabbing of a woman riding a Metro train “truly a tragedy that should have never occurred,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón on Wednesday announced a murder charge against a homeless man with a history of violence against passengers.

Elliot Tramel Nowden was arrested Monday shortly after Mirna Soza, a 66-year-old security guard returning from her night shift, was found mortally wounded on the ground at the Universal Studios train platform. He has now been charged with murder, first-degree robbery on a transit passenger and use of a deadly weapon.

Soza, a Nicaragua native and mother of three, was on her way home from overnight work at an Original Tommy’s hamburger restaurant in North Hills when she was killed. Authorities allege that shortly after 5 a.m., Nowden approached Sosa with a knife and stabbed her in the throat as they both got off the train in North Hollywood.

“She was stabbed without provocation by a man who grabbed the bag that she was holding,” Gascón said during a news conference. The district attorney said prosecutors also filed a special allegation that the murder was committed during a robbery. If convicted of all charges, Nowden faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I want to assure the family we will do everything within our power, as well as the police department, to make sure that justice prevails here.” Gascón said.

“Clearly this was unprovoked. It was violent,” he said.

Elliot Tramel Nowden

Elliot Tramel Nowden has been charged with murder in the fatal stabbing of a passenger on a Metro train.

(Los Angeles Police Department)

In June 2019, Nowden was arrested and charged with attacking a passenger on a Metro train in Los Angeles. He pleaded no contest, spent five days in jail and received a 36-month probation term, according to court records.

Under the terms of his probation, he was ordered to stay away from Metro trains.

A few weeks later, Nowden appeared before a judge on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and battery. He was sentenced to four years in state prison after pleading no contest to the assault charge, according to court records, and was given 179 days of credit for time served.

Nowden was paroled to the Department of State Hospitals on March 18, 2022, during his prison sentence, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

He was released on parole supervision in August 2022 and discharged from parole in March 2023. But in January, Nowden was again arrested by the LAPD for trespassing.

Soza knew that the early hours on public transit could be dangerous, so she often stayed at Tommy’s until sunrise, her colleagues say. But on Monday, she was too sleepy, so she began her trip home on the B Line.

Other passengers discovered the bloody scene on the Universal platform Monday morning and immediately alerted authorities. Despite lifesaving measures from paramedics, Soza died from her injuries at the hospital.

Interim Police Chief Dominic Choi said about 30 minutes after the LAPD arrived at the train station, officers spotted a person matching the attacker’s description near Ventura Boulevard and Vineland Avenue.

The man, later identified as Nowden, was detained and interviewed by detectives with the Valley Bureau homicide division. Nowden, 45, was arrested on suspicion of murder after detectives reviewed the evidence, according to the LAPD.

Public records show that Nowden’s last known address was in Little Rock, Ark. He was a wanted fugitive in Texas in November 2008, according to court records. In Bexar County, Texas, he was charged with theft and narcotics possession.

During Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting, Commissioner Maria Lou Calanche sought Choi’s assurance that there is adequate security on Metro during the early morning.

Choi responded that the department’s “deployment is strategic based on crime trends and needs.” He did not provide details.

“It’s not just a flat deployment, just to say that we’re deployed, so we take a look at crime trends as we look at ridership. We look at the activity and deploy accordingly,” Choi added.

He said that officers on trains, in train stations and on buses, along with the Metro system’s ambassadors, “are a directed effort to increase our presence as well as the safety on these lines.”

“Again, we can’t be everywhere all the time,” Choi said. The department tries to spread out officers and engage with riders “to create a sense of safety and address crime trends or problems as they occur immediately and swiftly.”

Times staff writers Nathan Solis and Noah Goldberg contributed to this report.

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