LOS ANGELES — A man who was in the car more than 20 years ago when his 16-year-old cousin was gunned down in Van Nuys testified in court Monday that the shooter dangled the gun out of his window before opening fire.
Two years after Rodolfo Gallegos — the 36-year-old ex-gang member accused of killing Burbank High School student Kenneth Caldera Jr. in Van Nuys in 1991 — was apprehended in Mexico, testimony resumed this week in his murder trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Kenneth's cousin, Johnnie Nieto, now 33, testified that he, his cousin and four other friends were idling in a car at Willis Avenue and Roscoe Boulevard in Van Nuys when a large vehicle pulled up next to them, with Gallegos holding a gun outside the driver's side window.
"It was one of those moments you don't forget …You don't forget a moment when you feel you actually might die," Nieto testified.
When Nieto and the other passengers saw the gun, he said they began yelling at one another to duck and to drive off.
Nieto, who was 14 at the time, said they yelled at the other car that they "were from nowhere" — a common phrase to claim no gang affiliation.
But it was too late, and Nieto said Gallegos fired more than four rounds at the group's car as it drove off and onto Roscoe Boulevard. Kenneth, who was sandwiched in the back seat of the coupe with two others, started moaning after yelling out that he had been hit, Nieto added.
The group drove away and made a left onto Roscoe. Still, Nieto said amid the chaos, he remained focused on Gallegos' facial features and the gun.
Gallegos, who is in custody, was 16 when the shooting occurred in a neighborhood that was the territory of Gallegos' street gang, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
An officer on Friday testified that Gallegos had the initials of the gang tattooed on his chin, and that he went by the moniker "Shy boy."
Gallegos allegedly fled to Mexico after the shooting and got a job as an English teacher at the University of Guanajuato, Celaya, according to the district attorney's office.
He was arrested Oct. 2, 2008, in Mexico and extradited to the United States.
On Friday, county Deputy Dist. Atty. Victor Avila showed a photograph of Kenneth, who was smiling and appeared to be posing for a school portrait.
Kenneth grew up in Burbank, where he played football at Burbank High and was named sophomore class Homecoming Court prince, family members said.
Nieto, who was shot once in the right leg, testified that the last time he saw Kenneth was in a Valley Presbyterian Hospital bed, and he appeared to be dead.
He said he relived the incident in his memories every day for a couple years after the shooting.
"This is the guy who ruined my life," Nieto said.