With the arrests over the weekend of four gang members on suspicion of murder, Santa Ana police said Monday that they have all but broken up the city's most troublesome youth gang.
Sgt. Mel Lewellen of the department's gang detail described the Highland Street gang as medium-size but extremely active in criminal activity this summer. The arrests "have seriously hurt them in terms of the number of people arrested and weapons taken off the street," he said.
Harvey Romero, 18, was booked on suspicion of murder at County Jail in the death of Pedro Sanchez, a former F-Troop gang member who had moved to Riverside. Sanchez was shot in the head Aug. 29 as he sat in the back of a car in Santa Ana, police said.
Suspects in Two Murders
Three 17-year-olds, whose names were withheld, were arrested on suspicion of the Sanchez murder and that of an unidentified man.
The second victim was bludgeoned with a gun and shot once in the chest the night of Sept. 4 near Bristol and Myrtle streets. He was described as a male Latino in his mid-20s.
A fifth gang member, Robert Morales Cabrera, 19, has been arrested on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon, police said, and a sixth is being sought as an accomplice in one of the slayings.
"This is good news for us," Lt. Dave Salazar said about the arrests. "This isn't something like arresting them for auto theft or narcotics, where they would be in and out of jail within hours. Where they're going, they're going to be out of circulation for quite some time."
Police Corporal Credited
Salazar credited Police Cpl. Steve Alegre for a break in the case. Two weeks ago, Alegre stopped a carload of noisy teen-agers. It seemed routine until he saw the gang tattoos on their fingers, hands and necks.
"He approached cautiously and noticed that they had a gun under the floorboards," Salazar said. "It was loaded, and we busted the driver for possession of a concealed weapon."
A ballistics test later linked the weapon to the two Santa Ana homicides and, Salazar said, led to the five arrests.
Police also searched the home of a 16-year-old girlfriend of one of the gang members and found 10 weapons, including an AK-47 rifle, handguns and shotguns, an undisclosed quantity of phencyclidine (PCP, also known as "angel dust"), marijuana and $2,000 in cash.
Salazar said the weapons were found in the girl's room, where her boyfriend had been living. The girl was not arrested, he said.
Police suspect that in addition to the homicides, gang members and their associates are involved with as many as 17 drive-by shootings, auto theft, street robberies and residential burglaries.
The Highland Street gang is one of an estimated nine branches of the city's F-Troop gang, said police investigators. The gang's territory is essentially on Highland west of Bristol Street and near McFadden Avenue. Members range in age from from 14 to the mid-20s.
The group has been lashing out at other gangs and recently feuded with members of its parent group, police said.