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5 Killed, 6 Hurt in Tijuana Ambush That Police Link to Warring Drug Factions

February 28, 1991|PATRICK McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mexican police were searching throughout Baja California and elsewhere in the nation Wednesday for suspects in a gangland-style ambush on a Tijuana street during Tuesday's evening rush-hour that left five people dead and six others injured.

Five of the injured--including a 22-year-old female student who remains in critical condition--were motorists driving by in their vehicles when they were caught in the barrage of 200 or more bullets aimed at two other cars, police said. Nearby drivers and pedestrians dove for the ground in panic as the shots rang out, authorities said.

All five dead, along with one survivor, were in two Grand Marquis Mercury sedans targeted by the assailants, authorities said.

While the cause of the shootings was still under investigation, authorities say the gunmen--who used the curved-handled, so-called "goat horn" AK-47 machine guns that are favored by Mexican drug gangs--may have been seeking vengeance in a feud related to Tijuana's thriving illicit drug trade.

At least one of the dead had previously been convicted of drug trafficking, authorities said.

Tijuana has long been a primary corridor for billions of dollars worth of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other illegal substances destined for the voracious U.S. market just to the north.

The high-volume smuggling has occasionally triggered slayings among warring gangs in the border city, but police say Tuesday's death toll was the highest to date in any such incident.

"I think this was the worst," said Jaime Sam Fierro, commander of the Baja California State Judicial Police in Tijuana, who is heading the investigation.

Authorities said they believe the shooting was an isolated vendetta and did not signal the outbreak of an all-out war among area traffickers.

"We think this was something personal," said Jose Nunez de Caceres, a state police commander in Tijuana.

The attackers ambushed their targets in a well-planned assault that occurred about 5:15 p.m. on a ramp leading from a technical school near Insurgentes Boulevard, a major commercial strip that was clogged with traffic at the time, authorities said. The site is across the street from a Calimax supermarket, and a few miles south of the Otay Mesa border crossing that leads to San Diego.

At least four assailants fired intensively for up to 7 minutes at the two targeted vehicles, one white and one gray.

The attackers, who were apparently positioned on the ramp, opened fire after their vehicles had managed to slow down or stop the two cars, police said.

Bullets flew in every direction, police said, hitting at least three other vehicles that were not targeted in the attack. The attackers used .45-caliber automatic handguns along with AK-47 machine guns and possibly other automatic weapons, authorities said.

One targeted sedan had 123 bullet holes while the other had 61, said Sam Fierro, the Tijuana state police chief.

The assailants sped off in at least one panel truck after finishing their mission, police said.

Authorities were searching for the suspects throughout northern Mexico, and had also contacted police in Mexico City, Nunez said.

Press reports in Tijuana said that as many as eight suspects in three different vehicles may have participated in the ambush. None of the victims had an opportunity to fire back, police said.

No drugs were found in the two targeted cars, authorities said.

All of the injured were taken to Tijuana's Social Security Clinic No. 20, where five of the six were in stable condition on Wednesday, said Dr. Luis Alberto Calderon, the hospital's assistant director.

One victim, Maria de Jesus Leon Romero, 22, was in critical condition with a bullet in her head, Calderon said. The woman, a student at the nearby Center of Superior Technical Education, a technical school, was driving by in her car when struck.

Another victim, Alfredo Altamirano, 36, was the only person among the six in the two targeted sedans to survive the attack, authorities said.

The dead were identified as Rigoberto Campos Salcido, 46, of Sinaloa state, who authorities said had served time in prison as a convicted drug trafficker; Rafael Loya, 23, also of Sinaloa; Carlos Gutierrez Repeto, 39, and Hector Rodriguez Vergara, 46, both of Mexicali; and Jose Angel Hernandez Carrillo, 25, of Sonora state.

The other wounded were identified as Armando Lujan Benavides, whose age was not available, and his son, Luis Carlos Lujan Gamero, 18, who were riding together in a passing vehicle; Pedro Saucedo Bojorquez, 24, and Amalia Cabrera de Saucedo, 45, who were together in a passing sedan that was struck 15 times, authorities said.

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