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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Child, Man Shot in Apparent Drive-By

Violence: The 4-year-old girl and her developmentally disabled neighbor are hospitalized with foot injuries.

March 23, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT and MARGARET TALEV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — A 4-year-old girl and her 22-year-old neighbor were shot Wednesday afternoon outside an east side apartment complex in what police believe was a gang-related drive-by shooting.

The child, Joselin Banaga, and Willie Lechuga each suffered a gunshot wound to the foot during the 2:30 p.m. incident in the 1200 block of Isleton Place.

Joselin's 3-year-old cousin was also outside when the shooting occurred, but he was not injured, her family said.

"If they'd shot a little higher, they could have killed somebody," said Martin Garcia, a neighbor. "I thought it was safe here, but I don't think so anymore."

Another neighbor, Betty McCaskill, said she was stunned by the event, which occurred in an older neighborhood east of Oxnard Airport. Residents said their neighborhood borders gang territory and that there had been other crimes, but nothing so violent.

According to police and family members, Joselin was standing outside the complex in an alley and waiting for her mother, Aide Banaga, so they could walk to nearby Driffill Elementary School to retrieve Joselin's 11-year-old sister, Yajaira.

Also outside was Lechuga, a developmentally disabled adult who lives with his mother in one of the apartments. The alley where they stood is connected to a small grassy courtyard in the complex, which faces Isleton Place.

Police think a car, perhaps a white Camaro, drove down the alley and an occupant inside fired, possibly after seeing Lechuga wearing a Dallas Cowboys football jersey. Such clothing is frequently a part of the uniform for a Colonia gang based north of the neighborhood, according to neighbors.

Detectives emphasized, though, that there is no information so far that suggests Lechuga is a gang member or associates with gangs. They also believe Joselin was wounded only because she happened to be in the area.

Neighbors heard two shots, but police said it was unclear whether Joselin was injured by a bullet or bullet fragments from a shot fired at Lechuga.

The victims were in stable condition Wednesday night after being transported to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard. Both were scheduled to be transferred to Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura to undergo minor surgery, according to a St. John's nursing supervisor.

"There is no reason why Willie and this little girl were shot," said Oxnard Police Sgt. Lee Wilcox, head of the department's major crimes unit.

Yajaira Banaga, Joselin's sister, said that when her mother and sister didn't arrive at school to walk her home, she walked home with a group of classmates and found police cars parked all over her street.

"My cousin told me 'they shot your little sister' and I said 'shut up' because I thought he was just joking, but then he said he wasn't joking," Yajaira said outside the family apartment Wednesday night.

Yajaira said she was told her sister had been playing outside when the shots were fired and that she ran inside the family's apartment after hearing the gunfire and feeling pain in her foot.

Joselin's mother took the young girl's shoe off and found blood pouring out of her daughter's foot, Yajaira said.

Lechuga also ran inside his home after being struck and notified his mother, neighbors said.

Police say they have no suspects and received little information from the victims because they didn't see the getaway car. Detectives scoured the alleyway and properties around the shooting site, searching for bullet casings or other evidence.

They searched the yard of Joe Carrillo, who lives across the street with McCaskill. Carrillo was about to walk out to his driveway to wash his truck when the gunfire erupted.

"If I'd been out there a minute earlier, it might have been a different story," said Carrillo, whose home was in the line of gunfire.

Wolcott is a Times Community News reporter; Talev is a Times staff writer.

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