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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

La Colonia Shooting Victim Is Mourned

Crime: As police cite doubts that the killing was gang related, residents decry the recent rise in violence.

November 28, 2000|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — As mourners passed a makeshift memorial for an Oxnard man gunned down early Sunday morning on a La Colonia street, a man who knew him well shook his head, tugged on his wide-brimmed hat and sounded a pessimistic tone about life in this emotionally jittery neighborhood.

"It's always gonna be here," the man, who would not give his name, said of the gun violence that continues to plague several Oxnard neighborhoods. "It's bad, and it's gonna get worse."

The feeling of no end in sight to the violence was shared by many of the family and friends who filed past another makeshift memorial, this time for Ray Caballero, even as Oxnard police continued their search for the killer and others prepared for a series of community meetings to discuss gang violence.

Martin Guzman, a La Colonia resident since 1976, said daily bicycle rides through his neighborhood have grown increasingly risky in recent weeks. Regardless of what the police do, he said, the shootings will most likely continue. It's an old rule of the neighborhood, he said.

"If somebody comes from a different barrio, they get mad and shoot," said Guzman, 35. "You watch. There will be another killing, you'll see."

Guzman said he spoke with Caballero about four hours before the shooting. He said he heard the screeching of tires and the rapid-fire report of gunshots early Sunday morning.

"I heard they were chasing him," Guzman said as he sat on a bicycle in front of a row of candles at the small memorial on 1st Street.

As Guzman and more than 40 people stopped by the site where Caballero's Ford Escort crashed into a parked car and house in the 1400 block of East 1st Street, Oxnard police found themselves trying to find a killer for the second time in less than two weeks.

On Monday, investigators were hesitant to link the latest shooting to a string of gang-related shootings that began Nov. 10 and continued through the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Police Chief Art Lopez said detectives are pursuing leads that would indicate that the latest shooting may have resulted from a domestic argument or "a business dispute."

"Everybody is characterizing it as a gang shooting, and we don't know if it is," Lopez said. "There is evidence to indicate that it may not be a gang shooting."

By the end of this week, Lopez said, he will have compiled a list of community members to help schedule a meeting to discuss the ongoing violence.

A meeting scheduled for Wednesday night in Oxnard and sponsored by the Wilson Neighborhood Council was in doubt Monday. Alan Wingo, the group's chairman, was caring for a sick relative in Bakersfield, said Steve Berotti, vice chairman of the council.

The meeting was to have included an update on the ongoing police investigations from Lopez.

Caballero, 22, whom authorities believe had longtime ties to street gangs in his La Colonia neighborhood, was driving his wife's car on 1st Street at about 4 a.m. Sunday when he was shot once in the chest, Oxnard police said.

After he was shot, Caballero's car plowed into the frontyard of a nearby home. Residents found Caballero unconscious and covered by a deflated air bag. He was taken to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, where he was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after arrival.

His death was the second homicide in Oxnard in less than two weeks. Felipe Ramirez, 17, was gunned down Nov. 15 as he stood talking with his brother and another friend in front of the Cedar Court apartment complex.

The Ramirez killing and five other shootings have occurred since Nov. 10. All are believed to be gang related, and only one has resulted in an arrest.

Monday, as the owner of the home damaged by Caballero's car took stock of needed repairs, friends, family and strangers stopped by to stare at the flickering flames of three Virgin Mary candles. Some prayed silently. One man slowed his car to a crawl, rolled down a window, gave the sign of the cross and sped away.

Several people gathered at the memorial wondered aloud if city officials will ever make good on promises of a community meeting, and others questioned the effectiveness of such a gathering.

"I think there should be a meeting, but we need to get tougher on these gangs," said Leroy Valenzuela, 53. "It's been getting bad for years. It slows down, and then it just starts up again. There will probably be retribution for this."

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