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Motorhome pursuit results in 88-year prison term

City News Service | 9/6/2019, midnight

A paroled sex offender who led authorities on an hours-long pursuit in a motorhome from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, with his 3-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter in tow, was sentenced this week to 88 years in state prison.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark S. Arnold said Stephen Merle Houk endangered the lives of many people during the May 1, 2018 pursuit and then abandoned his two young children in the motorhome. Virtually everything the 48-year-old defendant had done in the case demonstrated that he was a “coward,’’ the judge said.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours before finding Houk guilty Aug. 19 of two counts each of kidnapping, child abuse, injuring a spouse and child detention and one count each of assault with a firearm, criminal threats, fleeing an officer and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Deputy District Attorney Tal Kahana described the defendant as violent and controlling, telling jurors that when he woke his common-law wife in the early morning hours of May 1, 2018, demanding sex and she didn’t comply, “he responded by punching her four times in the head.’’

At some point that day, Houk pointed a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum at the woman’s head and threatened to kill her, according to the prosecutor, who said Houk told his children’s mother that he had two bullets—one for her and one for their 3-year-old son.

After driving from Malibu to Santa Clarita, the defendant forced the children’s mother out of the RV in the area of Bouquet Canyon and Newhall Ranch roads and left with the children.

“This is the only time she went to the police, the only time she begged for help,’’ Kahana said. “This time she believed that he was going to kill her.’’

Once Houk realized the police were involved, he fled, afraid of going back to jail, the prosecutor said. She said he refused to tell his wife when and where she would see the children again.

The deputy district attorney said that although children were not injured, the chase and its aftermath had put them in grave danger.

When Houk stopped the motorhome in an orchard in Bakersfield, he “abandoned those kids in a cloud of dust with the engine running,’’ she said.

Officers, on edge from the long chase, thought it was a hostage situation and brought in a SWAT team with armored vehicles and sniper rifles. The 3-year-old boy was in the driver’s seat revving the engine, while his father hid among the trees and shaved off his beard to change his appearance, the prosecutor said.

“He left his son and daughter facing down all those rifles,’’ Kahana said. “He’s selfish.’’

Houk was arrested two days later, hiding in an empty train car in a rail yard in Barstow.