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Man Shot to Death After Confrontation in Park : Crime: Police continue to search for gunman, who allegedly threatened adults and children in a public restroom at Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park.

October 11, 1994|TIMOTHY WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — Police continued to search Monday for a killer who shot one man to death and wounded another after a confrontation that began in a public restroom at Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park and continued at a bus stop several blocks away.

Reuben Ortiz, 36, of Van Nuys died at the scene after being hit several times in the face and chest, police said.

Andrew Reyes, 37, wounded twice, was hospitalized and released, police said.

"There is nothing I want to do more than catch the guy who did this," said Albert Ortiz, Reuben's brother and a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. "My brother was not a violent person. The whole thing just baffles me."

"He was a great kid," said Ortiz's mother, Gloria Romero. "Everybody always said he was the best friend anyone could have."

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The trouble started Sunday at about 4:30 p.m., when several children, accompanied by at least two adults, walked from the softball diamond where Ortiz and Reyes played on a softball team to the park's restroom, said Detective Stephen Fisk.

In the men's room, the group found one of the stalls locked, so they knocked on the door, the detective said.

A man whom witnesses described as "dirty, possibly homeless" was inside the stall, apparently washing up, Fisk said.

"He was angry because they were knocking on the door," Fisk said. "He told them, 'I'll kill you, I'll kill your family, I'll kill your children.' Then he walked away."

When the family members came back to the softball field to tell their friends about the incident, four men--including Ortiz and Reyes--hopped in a car to look for the man, police said. They took a baseball bat with them.

After searching Van Nuys Boulevard, the four men spotted the man sitting on a bus bench at Van Nuys Boulevard and Riverside Drive, about two blocks south of the park, Fisk said.

According to witnesses, when Ortiz got out of the car carrying the bat and approached the man, the latter drew a pistol and opened fire, striking Ortiz several times in the upper torso, Fisk said.

Two shots missed Ortiz and hit Reyes, who was in the back seat of the car, police said.

Then another man got out of the car, police said, and--with the bat--chased the gunman down a path and into the Los Angeles River channel.

The gunman fired at least two more shots while being chased but did not hit anyone, Fisk said.

Albert Ortiz said the Ortiz family is in turmoil because of conflicting stories from police, witnesses and friends who were with Reuben Ortiz just before he was shot.

Friends of Reuben Ortiz who were playing softball with him Sunday told his family that the men went looking for the homeless man only to detain him until police came, said Albert Ortiz. "They were only planning to talk to him because they knew he was armed," he said.

Most weeknights, Reuben Ortiz could be found playing softball at various parks in the San Fernando Valley. He would go from his job as a delivery driver for Crane Hydro-Aire in Burbank to the park to play softball four times a week, his brother said.

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Recently, residents living near the park have complained that a temporary probation office in the neighborhood would attract criminals. But Fisk said police have no reason to believe the gunman had any ties to the office. He said police also do not believe the gunman visited the park regularly.

Funeral services have not yet been scheduled, Albert Ortiz said.

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