Man Arrested in Shooting Deaths Outside Nightclub

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles police Thursday night arrested a Sylmar man they said fired into a crowd outside a popular nightclub, killing a 17-year-old boy and a 20-year-old woman.

Jose Casas, 21, was arrested at his house after he was identified by witnesses to the shooting, Detective Frank Bishop said.

Police said George Beltran of Arleta and Maria Theresa Hernandez of Sun Valley were among a group of people who quarreled with another group, including Casas, inside El Girasol, a nightclub at 13545 Van Nuys Blvd., about 12:40 a.m.

The group left the bar and walked north on Van Nuys Boulevard when Casas appeared and shot Beltran and Hernandez, police said.

"(Casas) came back with a gun and shot into the crowd, but they happened to be in front," Bishop said.

Beltran died at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, and Hernandez died at Holy Cross Medical Center, authorities said.

"The group they were with were drinking, there was some kind of altercation with another group, and later there was the shooting," Bishop said. "We don't know if the (victims) had been drinking or if they were involved in the argument."

Acting on a tip, police recovered the alleged weapon involved, a 9-millimeter pistol, from a friend of Casas, Bishop said.

Casas was being held without bail on suspicion of murder, Bishop said.

Most of the patrons at El Girasol on Wednesday night did not know there was a quarrel going on, said Jesus Payan, the nightclub's bartender.

"I was working, and I didn't know what was happening," he said. "We didn't know about it until the police came in later. . . . We said we didn't see anything."

Last year, the area of Pacoima bounded by the Simi Valley Freeway, Whiteman Air Park, Glenoaks Boulevard and Haddon Avenue had 12 homicides--more than any other area in the Valley, police said.

So far this year, there have been fewer than five.

But police said the neighborhood's mix of liquor outlets, illicit drug sales and gangs has fueled a recent surge in crime.

"There's a lot of bars, a lot of dope dealing, a lot of alcohol," said Bishop. "And then people get into these hassles and end up getting shot."

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