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'Wrong place. Wrong time.': Beaten San Pedro teen may have been caught in gang initiation, cops say

Evan Jimenez simply may have walked down the wrong street.

A few hours after San Pedro High School’s junior varsity baseball team trounced Gardena High on Thursday, the 15-year-old pitcher was walking through an alley near his home when he was confronted by two men.

One asked where he was from. The teen, possibly sensing trouble, said he wasn’t involved with any gangs, according to Sgt. Ricky Osburn of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Lomita station.

Within seconds, one of the men had smashed a liquor bottle against Evan’s head — the opening salvo in a vicious beating that left him hospitalized and unconscious for several days.

Investigators do not think Evan was targeted for personal reasons, but may have found himself caught up in a gang initiation ritual, Osburn said.

“Wrong place. Wrong time,” Osburn said Monday. “He has no criminal history. We’ve had no contact with him. Just seems like a good, normal teenage kid.”

The teenager had brain swelling and fractures to his jaw and face. On Monday, he was listed in “stable but serious” condition at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, Osburn said.

In the first days after the attack, Evan was heavily sedated and unconscious, but responded several times when his mother squeezed his hand. On Monday, he regained consciousness and was breathing without the aid of machines, according to Tammy Meyers, a family friend who started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Evan’s hospital bills.

“It’s huge progress. It’s great news,” Meyers said. “When [his mother] called me, we were both hysterical. That’s the best I’ve heard her sound in days.”

In a Facebook post published Sunday night, Evan’s mother said her son had been placed in a medically induced coma but was able to respond to certain stimuli, turning his head and making other movements in response to family members calling out his name in the hospital room.

According to Osburn, the attackers may have been trying to earn membership in a local street gang called Rancho San Pedro. The gang’s graffiti marked the alleyway where Evan was beaten.

A freshman at the high school who pitches and plays left field, Evan had been walking a friend home shortly before the attack, Osburn said.

“He was just walking through the gang’s area, and they confronted him,” Osburn said.

Police do not have a description of the suspects, but Osburn said nearly 75 people had called the Lomita station to offer information about the assault.

“That’s the only way we’re going to solve it, from the citizens,” he said.

Meyers described Evan as a polite and friendly presence on the team who made other players laugh in the dugout — even during tense games. He and Meyer’s son, Nolan, had become fast friends on the squad.

“Everything is ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’” she said. “It’s taken me about eight months to get him to finally call me Tammy instead of Mrs. Meyers.”

Meyers said the attack came as the area’s high school baseball community was recovering from another tragedy.

A baseball player for South High School in Torrance was killed in a car accident last month, and Evan and Nolan had attended the funeral together, she said.

“One thing that all of our boys learned out of this is you’ve got to keep your eyes open at all times. Sometimes you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I don’t know if anything could have prevented this,” she said. “Nobody should ever be put through this.”

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.


UPDATES:

6:05 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from a friend of the Jimenez family.

This story first published at 1:15 p.m.

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