Actor Trinidad Silva, 38, Dies in Collision

Times Staff Writer

Actor Trinidad Silva, best known for his roles as a Latino gang member in the “Hill Street Blues” television series and the movie “Colors,” was killed and his wife and son were injured when their pickup truck was struck by a drunk driver in Whittier, police reported Monday.

“This is a great loss to a lot of people,” fellow actor Edward James Olmos said Monday. “(Silva) was a man who had committed himself totally to his craft, one of the most gifted persons I’ve worked with.

“It is truly sad that a life of this magnitude . . . would be taken so tragically,” the “Miami Vice” star said.


Whittier police said Silva, 38, his wife, Sophia, 28, and their 2-year-old son, Samuel, were driving east on Slauson Avenue Sunday, when a sedan moving south on Santa Fe Springs Road ran the red light where the two streets intersect and slammed into the driver’s side of the pickup.

Officers said the sedan, driven by Douglas Robert Owens, 35, struck the small pickup with such force that both Silva and his son--who may not have been wearing seat belts--were hurled from the truck, the actor flying more than 100 feet before striking the pavement. He died instantly.

Sophia Silva and her son were recuperating at the home of relatives Monday.

“They’re scratched and sore, and in shock. But they’re alive,” said a brother-in-law, Hector Lemus. “That’s a miracle.”

Owens, who was not injured, tried to run, but witnesses grabbed him and held him until officers arrived, police said.

Owens, a resident of La Habra, was booked on suspicion of felony drunk driving and manslaughter and held in lieu of $5,000 bail.

Friends said Trinidad Silva came to Southern California from his native Texas in 1970, bent on pursuing an acting career.


At first, the roles were small--in movies like “Alambrista,” “Walk Proud” and “The Jerk.” But Silva got a big break in 1981, Olmos said, when he was made a brief appearance as a cocky gang leader in an episode of “Hill Street Blues.”

“He was brought in as a small role, but he was so strong that he went on to become a permanent fixture on the show,” Olmos said.

The highly honored show ran for years, and the character--Jesus Martinez--matured, eventually moving beyond his gang activities to serve as a paralegal, helping others in trouble with the law.

Recent Silva films included roles as a townsman in “Stones for Ibarra” and “The Milagro Beanfield War” and a featured part in “Colors,” in which he again played a gang member, “Frog”--this time an aging one.

Fellow actor Lupe Ontiveros, who first met Silva in 1979, remembered her friend as an irrepressible optimist, even when Hollywood insisted on giving him the stereotypical roles of a barrio gang member.

“He never placed any limits on his ability to become an actor,” said Ontiveros. “He was a very proud, deeply spiritual man who projected his love for his people, his culture and, above all, his family to every person. He was very proud of his work, and he believed that, in the immediate future, things would change and that our talents would be recognized.

“He had a lot of vision,” Ontiveros added. “He believed that the only way things would really change would be for Latino actors to produce their own feature projects. . . .”

Ontiveros said she was working with Silva in the upcoming Los Angeles Theater production “Stone Wedding,” a play by Milcha Sanchez Scott.

“His dreams had come true with this role,” Ontiveros said. “For the first time, he would be playing a leading character with all the richness and fullness and passion he wanted to portray on the screen. He would have run with it.”