Tribute Paid Slain Mexican Customs Agent

Times Staff Writer

About 75 law enforcement officials from both sides of the border attended funeral services here Wednesday for a 30-year veteran of the Mexican customs service who was slain at the border crossing earlier this week.

Guillermo Diaz, 58, was fatally shot Monday night as he attempted to halt a car fleeing from San Diego police. Tijuana police apprehended two San Diego residents who have since confessed to the slaying, Mexican authorities said.

Pursued by San Diego police, Ruben Gonzalez, 34, and his brother Mario, 25, were fleeing from a supermarket robbery in South San Diego when Diaz stepped out of his booth to stop them with his revolver drawn, said Luis David Bolanos-Camara, assistant director of state police for Baja California Norte. Ruben Gonzalez produced a sawed-off shotgun and shot Diaz in the head as the car careened through the border gates, Bolanos said.

Under gray skies early Wednesday afternoon, the somber funeral procession, led by a motorcycle unit of the San Diego Police Department, crawled through Tijuana's downtown to the San Francisco Catholic Church. With flashing lights and large wreaths of flowers on their hoods, a dozen U.S. and Mexican police patrol cars joined the parade.

The steps of the church were flanked by lines of Diaz's co-workers in brown uniforms and a small group of U.S. customs agents. As the funeral cortege paused at the foot of the steps, a small group of relatives huddled by the hearse, some of them weeping.

"We all held him in esteem," said Arturo Aleman-Contla, director of Mexican Customs in Tijuana and a friend of Diaz for 20 years. "He was a great friend, a great companion."

Aleman said he was at the border during the fatal shooting.

"It was (Diaz's) great sense of responsibility that led him to try to stop those delinquents," Aleman said. He shook his head sadly, recalling his own helplessness as U.S. paramedics summoned to the scene vainly attempted to save Diaz's life.

"I ran over to help," Aleman said. "But there was nothing more we could do for him."

Mexican customs agents, he said, have asked the Mexican government to reserve Diaz's job for his eldest son, Guillermo Diaz-Pino, because "now the son is the head of the family."

U.S. immigration officials attended Diaz's funeral "out of due respect for any officer that wears a uniform on the southern border," said George McCubbin, assistant port director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Ysidro.

"Guillermo was a friend of ours--a very humane man," McCubbin said.

Family friend David Cortez, of San Gabriel, called Diaz "a wonderful family man, dedicated to his children." Diaz is survived by his wife, Ofelia, and seven children, two of whom are still in grade school. Burial was at the Jardines de Guadalupe Cemetery.

Ruben Gonzalez, who has been accused of Diaz's murder, has a long history of crime on both sides of the border, Bolanos said. In a signed declaration to Mexican police in Tijuana, Gonzalez confessed to the murder of Diaz and to three armed robberies of U.S. supermarkets in 1983 that he was never arrested for, Bolanos said.

During the early '70s, Ruben Gonzalez served two weeks in jail in Tijuana for possession of heroin and six months in a Mexicali jail for transporting 50 kilos of marijuana, Bolanos said. According to records from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department that were made available to Mexican authorities, Bolanos said, Gonzalez served nine months for assault with a deadly weapon in the 1983 death of a San Diego man. He also was arrested for drunk driving several times in California.

Both Ruben and his brother confessed to robbing $520 from an Alpha Beta supermarket at 19th Street and Coronado Avenue in South San Diego shortly before the fatal shooting, Bolanos said.

Ruben Gonzalez also confessed to police that he fed a heroin habit by selling meat that he stole from a San Diego supermarket every week, Bolanos said.

"This man has one long history of crime," Bolanos said. "We hope to get him out of circulation for about 20 years."

The maximum sentence for murder in Mexico is 30 years in prison.

Mario Gonzalez faces lesser charges as an accomplice to homicide. His record shows that he has been arrested in the United States for possession of marijuana, Bolanos said.

The Gonzalez brothers will be tried in federal court here.

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