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Youth Killed in Santa Ana Gun Battle

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A gunfight between two rival gangs erupted Thursday near a public golf course, leaving one youth dead, two others wounded and sending startled golfers racing for cover.

Witnesses said dozens of gunshots were fired during an extended battle, which started on a baseball diamond at Alona Park and appeared to drift about 100 yards toward the Santa Ana River bike trail next to River View Golf Course.

“It was like the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral,” said Dave Emmons, 27, of Costa Mesa, who was golfing when the shooting broke out.

“At first, it sounded like firecrackers,” he said. “I saw a bunch of golfers running down a hill to get away and another diving behind a tree. We were all kind of scared and shakened up. . . . It caused me to get a 9 on the next hole, and it was a par 3.”

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Police said the shooting started about 1 p.m. when members of one gang confronted members of a rival gang at the park. A total of 10 to 14 young men were involved.

“Apparently, there was a verbal confrontation and then the shooting began,” Santa Ana Police Sgt. Bob Clark said. Investigators from the department’s gang unit were trying to piece together what caused the argument and how the shooting unfolded.

Two unidentified youths were detained for questioning, but no arrests were made, police said.

“Right now it’s not too clear what happened,” Clark conceded.

Maureen Haacker, a Police Department spokeswoman, said: “One group began shooting at the other. It’s unclear if the other gang fired back. They may have.”

Tom Meyer, an employee at River View Golf Course, said he saw golfers running for cover.

“It was pretty scary,” he said, adding that the battle seemed to move toward the Santa Ana River. “I saw at least four or five of them (gang members) go over there” during the shooting.

When police arrived, they found one suspected gang member on the ground with a bullet wound in the back. The unidentified victim, believed to be between 14 and 18 years old, was taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange where he was pronounced dead.

Two other suspected gang members were driven by friends to nearby hospitals, police said. Hugo Chavez, 20, of Santa Ana was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Orange with a gunshot wound in the buttocks, police said. Javier Romero, 20, of Santa Ana was shot in the right leg and taken to the medical center.

The three victims apparently belonged to the same gang, investigators said.

Police roped off the park while they searched the area and interviewed witnesses, including several golfers.

Residents said, however, that their neighborhood has never had a problem with gang violence.

“That’s one of the reasons why I moved here,” said Susan Armstrong, 23, who lives on 17th Street near the park.

Armstrong said she was troubled by the shooting because her young children often play at the park.

“It’s always been pretty nice there,” Armstrong said. “I’m kind of worried.”

Police agreed that the area is not known for violent gang activity.

“A shooting here is very rare,” said one officer at the scene.

In fact, Haacker said, gang activity in the entire city has decreased since the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War.

“We’ve had our share of gang problems, but it has been quiet the past few weeks,” Haacker said.

Thursday’s violence was the second fatal, gang-related shooting in the city since the beginning of the year, Haacker said. On Jan. 5, a 17-year-old girl was fatally shot in the chest by reputed gang members as she sat in the back of a pickup truck on West Chestnut Avenue.


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