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Coroner identifies El Monte couple killed in Boyle Heights gang attack

A man and his pregnant girlfriend who died this week after an unprovoked shooting in Boyle Heights have been identified as a teenage couple from El Monte, authorities said.

The L.A. County Coroner said that the victims from Sunday’s shooting and subsequent car crash were Maria Cordova, 18, who relatives said was three months pregnant, and Henry Sanchez, 19.

According to police, the couple and Sanchez’s friend planned to pick up food at a local, popular market then hang out at a local park until they had to drop off Cordova at work about 4 p.m.

The group got their food and went to the park, but their time there was cut short because of a dark SUV that roamed the area and made Sanchez’s friend nervous, said Det. David Alvarez.

Sanchez may have been mistaken as a rival gang member by people in the car for no other reason than his age and physical appearance, Alvarez said.

“Being that area is known for a male, Hispanic gang … being a male Hispanic from another area — you can be a target,” Alvarez said. “Even wearing your favorite [article of clothing] and being in the wrong area, that can trigger something.”

Neither Sanchez, Cordova nor their friend had any gang ties or police records, Alvarez said. The three packed up their things and left the park in a white sedan, police said, but they did not know that the SUV followed them.

At about 11 a.m., the white sedan stopped at a red light at East Cesar Chavez Avenue and Echandia Street. The SUV pulled up alongside it.

Police said it was at that moment that someone stepped outside the SUV and began firing at the driver’s side of the sedan. The shooter then got back into the SUV and the vehicle sped west down Cesar Chavez while the sedan sped down Echandia, Alvarez said.

Juicho Ortiz was on the porch of his Boyle Heights home when he and a friend looked up the hill and spotted the white car barreling toward them.

“It was coming down fast and swerving on the wrong side of the street,” the 59-year-old recalled. The men wanted to bolt, he said, but their legs froze.

 “It was going to crash but [we] didn't know which way to run because of the way it was moving,” Ortiz said.

The men watched as the vehicle sank into a dip and then launched itself into the air for several seconds. They braced for impact as the car plowed into a parked van, shattered an avocado tree and then exploded through the porch of a century-old home next door.

“It was very violent, like those crashes you see in the movies,” Ortiz said. “I felt the ground shake.”

As smoke poured from the crumpled sedan, Ortiz said, he “heard a woman screaming, 'Help, get me out! Get me out!'”

As bystanders rushed to free her, another passenger crawled from the wreckage. “He was bleeding from the head and arm,” Ortiz said. “He was in shock.”

Cordova died at the scene, and Sanchez died later at a hospital. Only the man in the vehicle’s rear seat survived. Cordova died of blunt force trauma. An autopsy for Sanchez was pending, officials said Thursday.

“They didn’t know the area and they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Alvarez said of the victims. “When they realized they had to get out of the area they were shot at. There were no words exchanged.”

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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