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Garden Grove, Santa Ana Violence : Neighbors Await Next Spasm of Gang War

September 24, 1989|SONNI EFRON and DAVAN MAHARAJ | Times Staff Writers

In both the 5th Street and 17th Street neighborhoods, there was an eerie quiet last week. Some people found it more menacing than the gunfire they say they hear nearly every weekend.

"It's too quiet," said Kandy Kirker, 17, pointing past her 16th Street home to the spot where young men and women usually meet.

"It feels like something's going to happen," said her mother, Margaret Kirker.

A few blocks south in the 5th Street neighborhood, residents were bracing for retaliation by the wounded 17th Street gang.

Two days after the killings, a 40-year-old mother of two put her 5th Street house in escrow and started packing to move to Riverside.

"I'm leaving while we're all still alive," the woman said. She said she was afraid to give her name.

On Thursday, Irene and Frank Fernandez buried their 4-year-old son, Frank Jr., on a hilltop in Orange. After the funeral, two dozen relatives drifted in and out of Anita Fernandez's battered stucco home in the 17th Street area.

They sat in a tiny living room whose smudged plywood walls were covered with three generations of baby pictures and Catholic icons and talked about how life in the Santa Ana barrios had changed.

Old-timers fondly recalled the late 1930s, when zoot-suiters came from all over Orange County to the El Rancho Alegre dance hall on the corner of Euclid and 17th streets and settled any differences outside with their fists.

More Peaceful Days

Their children, now in their 30s and 40s, talked about more peaceful days when knives still outnumbered guns and shootings were a one-on-one affair.

One of Frank Jr.'s uncles, who said he ran with a gang until he married at 18, insisted that the police could keep young gang members and younger would-be gang members off the street if only they wanted.

"They used to pull me over on a Friday night, lock my butt up," said the 33-year-old man, "just to keep me off the street. I would say, 'What's the charge?' They'd say, 'We'll drum something up on the way over.' And Monday morning they'd let me go."

While the \o7 veteranos \f7 spoke of stopping the violence, the dead boy's 19-year-old aunt, Irene Fernandez, talked of the 17th Street gang's revenge.

"Nothing can stop them," the slain boy's aunt said. "What they (5th Street) did, that was no respect. They did it with family around. They should have done it where there was no little kids."

What if the 17th Streeters kill another child when they take their revenge?

Irene Fernandez stared back defiantly.

"I hope it's one of theirs," she said.

Phyllis Cabrera keeps five sleek Chevies parked alongside her 5th Street house.

The 1931 truck is a prized antique. The '65 looks like a tribute to the glories of American auto-making.

Cabrera keeps them there to stop bullets.

An ordinary Saturday night brings 5th Street Rulers out into the street to "kick it"--hang out, play loud music and drink beer. At such times, residents say, rival gang cars are liable to appear without warning, "mad doggin' " down Euclid Street with guns drawn. Sometimes they barrel down 5th Street, fire off several rounds, and make a screeching, 90-degree turn onto Maxine Street.

Smokey Navarro, killed in last weekend's shooting, barely escaped 5th Street vengeance during one such escapade three months ago, according to several families who said they witnessed the incident. When Navarro tried to negotiate the 90-degree turn, the axle on his Toyota Celica broke, and he and two friends were forced to abandon the car and flee, neighbors said.

Using crowbars, baseball bats and steel pipes, the 5th Street Rulers pounded the Toyota into scrap metal.

Phyllis Cabrera claims the 17th Street gang shot her nephew, "Speedy," in the stomach two weeks ago, a charge the 17th Streeters deny. Police said they are looking into several recent shootings as possible triggers for the Saturday night drive-by spree that killed Smokey Navarro.

Bullet Ended Dream

Cabrera said Speedy had planned to join the Army, but a bullet still lodged two inches from his heart has ended that dream.

"I would say, \o7 'Mi hijo, \f7 if you do that, I would be the happiest person around," Cabrera said.

Next door to Cabrera's Spanish-style home, 71-year-old Virgil Coursey shows a visitor three fresh bullet holes in the aluminum siding on his stucco house. Another bullet had pierced the screen of a room where his grandchildren sometimes sleep, hitting an old sewing machine.

His barbecue grill, left outside, looked like a sieve.

"Not a weekend passes without shooting," said his wife, Ruby. "When it happens, we fall on the floor."

The 70-year-old woman demonstrated her technique for bellying down, arms cradling her face. They usually dive for cover in the den, she said, because it offers the best protection.

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