Death Toll Rises
Six gang-related slayings hit Salinas in a week, bringing the body count to 20.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Santiago Martín still can’t believe it happened. On Aug. 2, two gunmen walked up to his east Salinas doorway with guns blazing. They shot and killed his girlfriend of four years, 36-year-old Josephine Alvarez, and wounded his future sister-in-law in the leg. Alberto “Chico” Arizpe, 28, was also pronounced dead at the scene.
“Right now I don’t feel like she died,” Martín says a day after the shooting, adding that he keeps thinking Alvarez just went to the store and will soon return. “I don’t want to believe that she is dead.”
Martín, a sturdy young man with a soft face, stands in the front of his Dallas Avenue house. He says he can’t get inside; the cleaners haven’t arrived to wash the blood-soaked carpet. Martín can’t offer an explanation for why his home was targeted on a quiet Sunday evening.
“I DON’T WANT TO BELIEVE THAT SHE IS DEAD.”
Salinas police say the Aug. 2 double homicide was gang related. Arizpe was a gang member with tattoos on his face and Alvarez was a gang associate, says Sgt. Chris Lane. Arizpe was a childhood friend of Alvarez, Martín says, adding that his girlfriend wasn’t gang banging.
The killings were part of a streak of gang-related shootings amounting to six slayings in Salinas in eight days.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, 17-year-old Andres Chavarin was shot to death in front of his house on the 700 block of Yucatan Way. A day earlier, 30-year-old Arturo Navarro Marquez was shot and killed while walking near the corner of Noice Drive and Chaparral Street. On the morning of July 29, police found 21-year-old Antonio Christian Quintero lying lifeless in a grassy knoll in the Creekbridge neighborhood. He was shot the night before. And on July 27, Roy Simon Ramirez III, 28, was shot and killed on the 500 block of San Benito Street. The killings bring the city’s homicide count to 20 this year.
Police deployed the usual responses to the violent cycle. Chief Louis Fetherolf says he is reassigning personnel to work the streets and help with investigations, adding that the Violence Suppression Unit, the city’s gang unit, is working seven days a week.
On the night of the double homicide, Fetherolf says VSU and the county Gang Task Force were on patrol. “We had lots of officers out… and it happened in spite of that,” he says.
Still, Fetherolf reiterates his call for more police officers. In his 90-day report last month, Fetherolf requested 131 new police personnel, including 73 sworn officers, to gain ground in the city’s battle against gangs and implement community-oriented policing. “We are just so strapped for people,” Fetherolf says. “We do not have the capacity we need. Unless and until that changes, we are going to continue to experience the crime we are facing.”
The City Council is counting on voters to approve a one-cent sales tax increase on Nov. 3 that will help fund Fetherolf’s policing plan and fill in city budget gaps. Mayor Dennis Donohue says the tax measure won’t just pay for more cops. “It’s an expanded vision with additional tools,” he says. “What we are looking for is a game changer.”
A few houses down from the scene of Sunday night’s double murder, a retired woman washes her car on the lawn. The Salinas resident, who declines to give her name, says she was cooking when she heard the gunshots just after 9pm. “I was scared, terrified,” she says. Though shootings have plagued her neighborhood before, “it’s never been this close.”
An older man who lives around the corner walks up. “This is getting out of hand,” he says, also asking to remain anonymous. He recalls how, in the ’80s, the police department assigned beat cops to a 10-block neighborhood in east Salinas. He says he knew the officers by name and the neighborhood was more peaceful. But the city scrapped the program long ago, and now the man can recount numerous instances of gunfire breaking out on his street. “We got too many gangs,” he says, adding that this area is Sureño territory and the house that was shot up was Norteño.
“It makes me want to pack up and leave,” the woman says. She says she didn’t know the people who lived in the house where the hit took place, but she saw young children there. “You know how traumatic it is for the children that live there,” she says. “It’s going to affect their lives forever.”
Alejandro Suarez pulls up in his Honda Accord with his young son riding shotgun. Suarez says the police need to establish more checkpoints and search cars for guns since most shootings in the city are drive-bys. “Pull over everyone,” he says. “Who cares if they get mad?”
Since he has lived in Salinas, Suarez says, bullets have struck his vehicles on two occasions. He is frustrated, both by by residents who don’t get involved and by ineffective policing. “They want to have more cops. Why they want more cops? For driving and doing nothing?”