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Arrests Ease Gang's Grip on Avenue, Police Say

Violence: Eight members or associates are awaiting trial in the beating death of Billy Zara, and three have been convicted in separate attacks.


VENTURA — A round of arrests and convictions in recent months has landed 11 members and associates of Ventura's largest and most violent street gang in jail, a blow that police say cripples the ability of the gang to control the streets along Ventura Avenue.

Authorities say gang activity surrounding the Avenue area has dropped significantly since the arrests, largely because many of those put behind bars are senior members of the gang.

"A significant number of the older gang members are now off the street," said Sgt. Mark Stadler, who oversees the city's gang unit. "And that takes away a lot of the leadership on the Avenue. It's just not the Avenue it was two years ago."

But police statistics on gang activity seem to tell another story.

Authorities responded to 50 calls involving gang members along the Avenue between January and June, a 70% increase over the same period last year.

And overall, gang arrests for the area have jumped 65% in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year.

Police chalk up the jump in incidents to an increasingly responsive gang unit. The Special Enforcement Team received a $1.5-million grant in 1998 to combat gang problems in the city, and the Avenue area has been a focal point.

"I think we're moving into the mature years of this grant," said Lt. Quinn Fenwick, department spokesman. "We're becoming more effective and won't tolerate even minor violations.

"I can tell you," Fenwick added, "you won't go down there now and see groups of [gang members] standing around intimidating people. They congregate and boom, we are there."

Of all the busts, however, authorities say the arrests surrounding two incidents last year have had the biggest effect on cutting gang violence.

Eight alleged gang members and associates were indicted in December in the fatal beating Sept. 25 of Billy Zara, whom they believed had called police to complain about their loud party.

Frank Olvera, 33; his wife, Rosana Olvera, 36; Terry Schell, 22; Chris Gonzales, 22; Mario Jaquez, 19; Benny Mendez Lopez Jr., 18; Thomas Barrios, 21; and a 14-year-old boy are awaiting trial.

And last week, three gang members pleaded guilty to charges of assault with a deadly weapon, which carried an enhancement term for being active participants in a criminal street gang.

In that case, Leon Tuuu, 20, Frank Flores, 20, and Daniel Gutierrez, 19, were accused of stabbing one man in the head and another in the arm during a house party in the 300 block of Barnett Street.

Police believe the attackers were upset because the victims were from Oxnard, though not gang members, and had come to Ventura to visit a group of women from the Avenue area.

The three men, who are scheduled for sentencing next month, face up to eight years in prison.

Authorities said the convictions are a particularly significant strike against Avenue-area gang members because Gutierrez is the son of Rosana Olvera and stepson of Frank Olvera. The Olvera home, located across the street from Zara's, was a known hangout for local gang members, according to court records.

The end result, police say, is a quieter neighborhood.

"When you have hard-core gang members taken off the street for a long period of time, it makes the neighborhood safer," Fenwick said. "And that's what we have here--hard-core gang members taken off the street."

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