Peace lasted 2 hours and 10 minutes in 1992 before Los Angeles County returned to its violent ways.
In a low-rent trailer park bordering the freeway in a gritty corner of Baldwin Park, there was plenty of cold beer and New Year's hugs as neighbors partied past midnight in the horseshoe-shaped lot.
By Wednesday morning, a family of four had lost its father and a family of three--mother, father and teen-age son--were all behind bars.
Phillip Salazar, a 32-year-old unemployed carpet layer, became the first homicide victim of 1992. His neighbors--Abel Moreno, Barbara Moreno and their 17-year-old son--were booked on suspicion of murder for allegedly clubbing him with a baseball bat, then stabbing him in the chest.
"There's no way this can be a good year," said Salazar's friend, Richard Villa, who also lives in the 32-unit trailer park along Garvey Avenue in the San Gabriel Valley. "He may not have been perfect, but he was too good of a person to go down like this."
The good cheer ended about 2 a.m. in the parking lot, surrounded by aluminum-sided trailers, crushed beer cans and the scrawl of gang graffiti. Salazar and Barbara Moreno, who had been drinking together, began to exchange words. No one seemed to know what the fight was about, but neighbors said it escalated after she returned with her husband and son.
Witnesses said the couple bashed Salazar in the head with the bat, then held him while their son stabbed him in the chest with a switchblade-type knife they said he had received for Christmas. Salazar was pronounced dead at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina.
"Thank God, I was in bed," said the manager of the trailer park, which is across the street from the Y-Not Hideaway Lounge. "We watched Barry Manilow sing the New Year in and that was the end of that."
When police arrived at the trailer park, they booked Barbara Moreno, 35, and her 41-year-old husband, Abel, who live three units away from Salazar. While being held in Baldwin Park jail, the couple called their son--who was in hiding--and persuaded him to turn himself in, officers said.
All three were being held without bail Thursday.
"When you're on call New Year's Eve, you don't expect to sleep the night through," said sheriff's homicide investigator Russell Uloth, who was awakened at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday and told to report to the scene with his partner, Pamela Schrick.
"Even though it's just a Tuesday night, you anticipate getting this thing," Uloth said. "It kind of puts a crimp in any plans you might have."
At the Los Angeles County coroner's office, Salazar was assigned case number 92-00002. The first case of the year went to an 18-year-old who collapsed shortly after midnight while working at the Barley Bin liquor store in Whittier. It was determined that he died of natural causes.
In 1991, the coroner's office performed 2,401 autopsies--a county record that exceeded the previous year's total of 2,353.
Salazar's case was quickly followed by those of a Huntington Park woman found stabbed to death at her home, a 26-year-old man fatally shot in an Athens-area alley and a Hollywood man whose body had been stuffed in a bag and left in a closet.
Salazar was described by friends and relatives as a gentle, kindhearted man who loved working on cars, drawing portraits in his sketchbooks and spending time with his three children, ages 3 to 13.
On Thursday, his family fretted over funeral expenses--a large sum of money for residents of trailers that rent for $440 to $568 a month--while neighbors remarked that the complex was eerily quiet.
The Salazars' trailer was empty because his common-law wife, Kathy, and their children could not bear to return. The Morenos' trailer was empty because the entire family is in jail.