A violent rivalry in the San Gabriel Valley between a Chinese gang and gangs of mixed Asian heritage--Vietnamese, Filipino and Vietnamese Chinese--may have led to the shooting deaths of two youths at a San Marino high school graduation party in June, authorities said Thursday.
When members of a mixed Asian gang arrived at the party and discovered that rival Chinese gang members were there, they left to seek powerful weapons, including an AK-47, investigators said. They returned, authorities said, and killed two people and wounded seven others.
San Marino police initially characterized the June 5 shootings as the unfortunate result of a flyer party whose photocopied invitations attracted the wrong crowd to a posh house on Lombardy Place. An argument with a disc jockey after gang members were kicked out of the party was said to have sparked the shootings.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Teri Schwartz, who is prosecuting the case, said Thursday "we're fairly confident that it was gang rivalry that was the motivation behind the shootings."
According to investigators, the gang members arrived at the San Marino party to drop off a female acquaintance. After she was told that rival Chinese gang members were inside, her companions regrouped at a crash pad in El Monte, phoned around for weapons and returned to the party.
The gang scenario is likely to be used in the murder trial of the four suspects charged in the slayings of Dennis Buan, 18, of South Pasadena, and David Hang, 14, of San Marino, Schwartz said. Police said the two were killed when the attackers opened fire on 35 people.
At their arraignment in Pasadena Municipal Court on Thursday, not guilty pleas were entered by Hau Tac San, 18, of South El Monte; Cuong Chan Phan, 18, of Monterey Park; Vi Quoc Chau, 18, of Rosemead, and Tam Thi Tran, 19, of Westminster.
All four are to return to court Sept. 15 for a preliminary hearing to be set. Meanwhile, they remain in custody on $1-million bail each.
The four were arrested Aug. 9 in a sweep of 11 homes in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles and Stockton by more than 120 sheriff's deputies and officers from San Marino and Monterey Park.
Investigators seized five weapons: a 9-millimeter handgun, an AK-47 rifle, two shotguns and a 380-caliber handgun with an interchangeable barrel capable of firing different caliber ammunition.
Five others taken into custody the same day--Phuong Tung Nguyen, 19, of Canoga Park; Son That Ton, 19, of El Monte; Thuan Quang, 25, of Garden Grove; Long Huynh, 24, of Rosemead, and a 17-year-old Rosemead girl--were released. Police no longer believe the five were involved in the shootings.
The San Marino slayings follow nearly a year of shootings, assaults and murders between Asian gang members in the San Gabriel Valley, said Sgt. Tom Budds of the Sheriff's Department Asian organized crime unit.
The gang war arose over control of the extortion rackets, he said. Pitted against each other are members of an older, highly organized crime ring of Chinese gang members and a new alliance among those belonging to a variety of gangs whose members are Filipino, Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese from Vietnam and a mix of all three, Budds said.
Detectives have found that Asians of mixed ethnic backgrounds not only join the same gangs but share "crash pads," or hangouts where they rest or plan crimes, Budds said.
The gang violence sprang from a rivalry between two " dai los, " or gangster big brothers in separate gangs, said sheriff's Detective Bill Howell, who also works in the Asian organized crime unit. Other gangs soon became embroiled in the growing violence and sheriff's deputies in the San Gabriel Valley began seeing an increase in shootings and assaults at pool halls and restaurants. Many of the crimes were never formally reported to police, they said.
Among the crimes authorities believe may be gang-related are: shootings last August at two pizza restaurants in the city of San Gabriel, the November slaying of a 20-year-old Alhambra man in the parking lot of an El Monte pool hall, the December shooting death of an 18-year-old Los Angeles man at a billiard hall in El Monte, shootings early this year at an El Monte video arcade and the assault two weeks ago of a 67-year-old woman in Monterey Park whose son is allegedly a Wah Ching gang member. Not all the cases have been solved.