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Santa Ana Man Killed by Shot Fired by Friend Trying to Help

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a bizarre development, Santa Ana police announced Monday that a 22-year-old man fatally wounded while fighting a pack of gun-wielding drug dealers was actually shot by a friend who was trying to scare off the attackers.

Ruling that the death of Celestino Morales Davila was an accident, police said the size of the bullet that struck him in the head indicates that it came from a semiautomatic pistol that the friend was attempting to fire into the air.

Another resident of the Southwest neighborhood, Sabino Mena Moreno, 19, was wounded during the Saturday afternoon melee, but that also was ruled an accident, police said. Mena was apparently struck by pellets from a shotgun that another resident had blasted into the air.

In all, police said, four gunshots were fired during the confrontation with a group of drug dealers that Morales had chased off West Walnut Street earlier in the day--only to see them return with weapons. None of the shots, however, appear to have been fired by the drug dealers.

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Santa Ana police spokeswoman Maureen Thomas refused to identify the residents involved but said no charges will be sought against them because witnesses agree that the tragic shootings appeared to be accidental.

Police are continuing to seek the suspected drug dealers, however. Under state law, a person can be charged with murder if he or she does something illegal that contributes to a death.

“The district attorney will have to decide whether to charge the dealers with this crime if they are caught,” Thomas said.

Nancy Inglehart, chairwoman of Citizens Against Narcotics in Santa Ana, said Monday that the drug dealers who terrorize the largely Latino neighborhood are to blame for Morales’ death.

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“Whether it was accidental or not,” Inglehart said, “it’s still drug-related. If the drug dealers weren’t there, these people wouldn’t have to arm themselves. There would be no tragedy like this. It’s an absolute shame.”

Albert Gipson, 67, a resident of the neighborhood for more than 27 years, agreed. “The dealers should be charged with some kind of crime because they caused (Morales’) death,” he said. “That young man would still be alive if they hadn’t started it all.”

The Saturday incident began when Morales and four friends chased off a group of five drug dealers who, residents say, frequent the 1400 block of West Walnut. But minutes later, the dealers returned and, armed with shotguns, surrounded Morales, who carried a machete to protect himself.

As some neighbors scattered for cover, Morales’ friend fired the semiautomatic pistol twice in the air.

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When Morales was struck, a witness shouted, “Someone is killing Celestino,” police spokeswoman Thomas said.

The other resident then fired his shotgun twice into the air, but some of the pellets sprayed Mena, who was treated for superficial wounds at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo and released.

The dealers then fled.

Morales died Monday at UCI Medical Center in Orange.

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Gipson, a retired construction worker, said there was a time when the Southwest neighborhood was as peaceful as the countryside.

Now, however, he said, “you can hear gunfire at night and see dealers selling right outside on the street corners. They have more business than the bread man.”

“It’s so sad,” he said. “People are afraid to leave their houses.”

Inglehart called for residents to rise up against the drug dealers and not be discouraged by Saturday’s violence.

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“People have to sit down on their lawn chairs at 5 p.m. with a pencil and pad and start marking down these dealers,” she said. “Then these criminals can go someplace else to sell.”

Organizing the neighborhood has been difficult, said Sandra Thrower, a nurse who has been trying to get Southwest residents to join the Riverbed West Neighborhood Assn. She said the shootings may finally spark interest.


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