A gang member who allegedly helped a friend stab a college student in the head with a screwdriver at a Garden Grove cyber cafe has been convicted of murder in a case that triggered a citywide crackdown on late-night Internet parlors.
The attack, the first fatality at one of the city's many cyber cafes, prompted city leaders to enact curfews and other measures targeting the gathering spots, but those regulations stalled after business owners sued the city.
The cyber cafes, however, appear to have lost their luster. Garden Grove officials said about half of the 23 cafes have closed since Phong Huu Ly, 20, of Santa Ana was stabbed to death in December 2001. "It was a new thing, very popular, and now that fad has started to settle into a more permanent level" of popularity, said Garden Grove Police Sgt. Robert Fowler.
"We find that they're still busy, but not as busy as they used to be."
Ly was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver as he waited for a computer at the now-defunct PC Cafe. Jim Hoang Nguyen and Tam Thanh Huynh, both 22, allegedly killed Ly because they thought he was a rival gang member, officials said.
Nguyen, who provided the getaway car and screwdriver during the attack, was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder, a gang enhancement and committing the crime in furtherance of gang activity. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced in September.
Huynh is accused of stabbing Ly. His trial begins Monday.
The fatality prompted city officials to pass a law requiring cyber cafes to log all customers, limit business hours, videotape the premises and store tapes for 72 hours in case the police need them, among other mandates.
Facing lawsuits from cafe operators, the city amended the law, loosening business hours and other restrictions. A judge called the regulations "seriously and fatally flawed" and struck down the permit process that allowed city officials to add rules for individual cafes, require security guards and mandate videotaping.
But he left intact the city's authority to set business hours and curfews for minors.
The city has filed an appeal; a hearing will be held in October.
Cyber cafes, also known as PC rooms or Internet cafes, are generally operated out of strip mall storefronts with rows of computers set up to provide high-powered Internet access for a $2 hourly fee. Though some customers use the computers to check e-mail or search for information, most of the young customers play video games against other players from around the world.
Though police said the cafes had become a breeding place for crime, business owners argued they were wrongly being blamed for violence.
"The city should not tell me how to run my business," said Diane Vo, 49, of Orange, who owns Vietnam Internet Center on Brookhurst Street in Garden Grove. "I have a right to run my show. This is just a way for them to drive us out of business."
She said publicity about crimes at or near cyber cafes had hurt the industry, forcing business owners to close shop.
"It lumped us and labeled all of us as gang members," Vo said. "We're offering a good place for kids to be at after school. We're struggling, and business is tough. The bad publicity has killed my business and my competition."