No Letup in Santa Ana Violence : Attacks: A man is killed and two are wounded outside a bar. Four have been slain and eight hurt in the city since Feb. 25.
An already bloody week turned more violent early Thursday when one man was killed and two others were wounded by a gunman who approached them outside a bar and opened fire, police said.
The fatal shooting occurred in the 200 block of West Warner Avenue about 1:40 a.m. in the parking lot of Casa del Rey bar and restaurant, even as homicide detectives searched for a gunman in a separate attack on a 35-year-old man who was killed after being shot in the head while driving a tow truck Wednesday afternoon.
Since the night of Feb. 25, four people, including a 2-year-old boy, have have been slain and eight people wounded in separate shootings across Santa Ana.
It’s been a “very busy week,” said Sgt. Dick Faust. “I wouldn’t say overwhelming or anything because (investigators) are used to it.
“We’ve had worse weeks in the past,” he said. “This is an unpredictable business.”
Some residents said the recent wave of violence indicated that Santa Ana was steadily becoming a more dangerous place in which to live.
“Santa Ana is like Los Angeles” with crime problems, said Daniel Jacques, 22, who lives in a northeastern neighborhood. “It’s getting worse and worse.”
“I don’t believe the violence” in the city, said Margarete Lutes, who owns a bar next to Casa del Rey, where 29-year-old Joaquin Solgado Rogel of Santa Ana was shot once in the head and killed Thursday.
Investigators said they do not know why the gunman attacked Rogel, who along with Sylvester Alvarez, 29, was talking with Lila Rangel, 27, of Santa Ana as she sat in a car near the front door of the bar.
The gunman stepped up to the three and fired about six times without warning, police and a witness said. The assailant fled on foot.
Alvarez was listed in stable condition while Rangel was said to be in guarded condition at a local hospital.
Rangel was not able to talk with investigators about the shooting, but she named a 30-year-old Santa Ana man she knew as the attacker, police said. Police are trying to locate the man, who was last seen about 7 p.m. Wednesday at the home he rents with his brother on North Garnsey Street.
Authorities were also searching for a man who fatally wounded Rodolfo Vega, 35, about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday as he sat in the cab of a tow truck on busy Grand Avenue just south of East 4th Street.
A man had chatted briefly with Vega as he was starting to tow a car to his business, Vega’s Tire & Auto, on North Hathaway and East 3rd streets, according to police and a witness.
Some of Vega’s relatives told police they believed the shooting was connected to the suicide of a man known to family members as Jorge at the tire and auto store last December.
Vega’s mother-in-law, Maria Guevara, said she and other family members were told that a man fleeing the scene resembled Jorge’s brother.
Lt. Robert Helton said homicide investigators were looking into the possibility of a connection to the suicide, but, “everything is an open option at this point. We’re not focusing on any one thing.”
Helton said that, based on the investigation so far, police have not found any evidence that someone held a grudge against Vega.
Family members and some acquaintances said Vega worked six and seven days a week to support his wife, Norma, and three boys, Arturo, 13, Rodolfo, 5, and Daniel, 2.
The family members were still trying to decide how to break the news of their father’s death to his sons, Guevara said.
“The children don’t know. We say he is sick in the hospital, because we don’t know how to tell them,” she said, crying.
“There is so much crime. People don’t give a damn anymore. I read about this every day in the paper and then this really hit home with me,” said Vega’s sister-in-law, Guadalupe Bendz.
The week of violence began the night of Feb. 25 when a gunman fired from a moving car on North Garfield Street, striking 2-year-old Esteban Zavala Martinez in the head, killing him as he rested in his father’s arms.
The next day, Jose Luis Lopez, 17, of Santa Ana was shot to death near Century High School as he drove to the campus with his brother and cousin. A 17-year-old suspected gang member, Miguel Camarena, was arrested and has been charged with the murder.
On Saturday, two men were stabbed on South Standard Avenue by a man who ran away. Jorge Cruz, 22, and Fidel Robles, 29, were recovering in a local hospital, officials said.
On Tuesday night, four men were wounded in a pair of related drive-by shootings south of Willowick Municipal Golf Course. Police were investigating a possible link to drugs in that attack.
This week’s violence erupted even as Santa Ana recorded a 6% drop in overall crime last year, the first time in five years the city had a decrease in serious crimes, according to state figures. The crimes included murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglaries and motor vehicle theft.
But an outbreak of violence beginning New Year’s Eve ushered in one of the city’ bloodiest weekends, police said. Three men, ranging in age from 17 to 31 years old, were killed in separate shootings across the city.
Councilman Miguel A. Pulido Jr. on Thursday defended the city despite the recent rash of shootings, saying Santa Ana compares favorably with any other city of equal size in the country.
“I have a list which shows that Buffalo, N.Y., and places like Kansas have more crimes than Santa Ana,” Pulido said.
Mayor Daniel H. Young said that because of the violence, which sometimes reaches the very young, such as the case with 2-year-old Esteban Martinez, people may think Santa Ana is an unsafe place in which to live.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people can go on with their daily business whether they live in Buena Park, Irvine or Santa Ana,” Young said. “But when (the shooting of) an innocent victim occurs it really jars their sense of security and community. But it doesn’t mean their community is unsafe. These types of shootings happen all over the county.”
Young said he plans to have meetings with Police Chief Paul M. Walters before the next City Council meeting to discuss how they can more effectively get guns out of the hands of juveniles.
Times staff writer David A. Avila contributed to this story.