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Feud, Not Gang, Now Blamed in Shooting

August 21, 1991|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The shooting of an Oceanside teen-ager who lay asleep in his bed was the culmination of a bitter feud between two families and not the result of the victim's refusal to join a gang, officials close to the case said Tuesday.

At a preliminary hearing in Vista Municipal Court on Monday, Judge Donald E. Rudloff likened the dispute to a spat between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

On July 15, a .22-caliber bullet pierced the colon, lungs and diaphragm of 17-year-old John Jeremiah (J. J.) Diaz and lodged near his heart. The shot was allegedly fired from a house behind the Diaz home, in the 5000 block of Macario Drive.

On Monday, 25-year-old Santiago Rivas Suarez was ordered to stand trial, accused of attempting to murder Diaz.

Officials said the incident in the Mesa Margarita section of Oceanside, in a gang-infested area of the San Luis Rey River Valley, appeared to be retaliation for an earlier drive-by shooting at the home of another family, with whom the Diazes were feuding.

Suarez, a friend of the family allegedly feuding with the Diazes, is being held in County Jail in Vista on suspicion of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Rudloff reduced Suarez's bail from $500,000 to $250,000 because the defendant has no history of violent crime.

The day after Diaz was wounded, his father, Joey Diaz, called a news conference to announce that his son's refusal to join a gang had led to the shooting.

After hearing of his grandson's wounding, Joe Diaz, 78, died of an apparent heart attack at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside.

On Tuesday, however, Deputy Dist. Atty. John L. Davidson said the motive behind the shooting was "bad blood and ill will" between the Diaz family and members of the Anna Herrera Sanchez family, whose sons, Marcos and Arturo Herrera, are alleged to be members of the Oceanside gang called Mesa Locos.

"What became clear is that J. J. Diaz was shot in retaliation for a drive-by shooting done previously on the Herrera residence" on Parker Street in Oceanside, said Santiago Suarez's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Matthew Braner. "The Herreras, Marcos and Arturo in particular, have had a longstanding feud with the Diaz family and J. J. in particular."

Witnesses testified at Monday's preliminary hearing that J. J. Diaz fired shots at a van parked in front of the Herrera home.

Davidson, the prosecutor, said an ugly confrontation between Diaz and Marcos and Arturo Herrera occurred the night of July 14 at the Herrera home, followed by the drive-by shooting and then the shooting of Diaz at 1 a.m. July 15.

"It became this tragic night in which shots were fired at the Herrera home," Davidson said. "Two older females and children were in the house and could have been killed," although no one was injured.

"It's really horrendous. And then J. J. is lying next to his 19-year-old sister (Rachel Newton) and his 2-year-old nephew. The small child could have been killed, and J. J. was on a very thin string. For him to be walking around and breathing is really a miracle. The doctors saved his life.

"But two wrongs don't make a right. There's no rhyme or reason for what Santiago Suarez did, which was attempting to kill" Diaz, Davidson said.

Braner said Suarez is innocent, and that the evidence against him is "ambiguous at best."

Shortly after the shooting at the Herrera home, Marcos Herrera and Santiago Suarez pulled up in front of the house and were told of the incident, according to testimony from Anna Herrera Sanchez.

She testified that her son and Suarez believed Diaz was responsible for the shooting, and that she pleaded with them not to go to the Diaz home.

Prosecutor Davidson then asked her why they did, and she replied: "To do I don't know what. I guess to kill J. J."

During cross-examination by Braner, Oceanside Police Detective Ruben Sandoval testified that Suarez had admitted firing a shot from a rifle near Diaz's bedroom window. Suarez has since denied making the statement.

Suarez is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 3 in Vista Superior Court.

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