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3 Men Slain in a Night of Violence

In Oxnard's deadliest day in 20 years, one victim is stabbed and two others shot to death in separate crimes an hour apart.

May 27, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

The holiday weekend turned bloody in Oxnard, where one man was fatally stabbed Sunday during an argument with a neighbor and two others were shot to death in a possible gang-related incident less than an hour later.

Police arrested 28-year-old Adam Lowe of Oxnard on suspicion of murder in the stabbing case. He was being held without bail Monday night. The identity of the gunman in the double shooting is unknown.

The killings bring the number of Ventura County homicides this year to 24, one more than the total for all of 2002. Last year in Oxnard, there were 12 homicides -- the same number logged in the city since Jan. 1 this year.

"This is very substantial and of great concern to us," said Oxnard Police Department spokesman David Keith. "For the last two months, we've been very quiet and then these popped up. We're going to do everything we can to stem the tide."

More than a dozen off-duty police officers and detectives were called into work early Monday to interview gang sources for leads and provide more patrols in case the shootings provoke retaliatory violence.

Sunday's slayings mark the city's deadliest day in nearly 20 years, Keith said.

Like most cities in the county, Oxnard's Memorial Day weekend had been largely uneventful until about 9 p.m. Sunday, when a stabbing was reported at a house in the 400 block of Anita Avenue in the Colonia district.

Officers found Gregorio Jiminez, 33, lying in his backyard with a stab wound in his chest. He died minutes later at nearby St. John's Regional Medical Center, said Senior Deputy Coroner Craig Stevens.

According to Keith, Jiminez had lost his cell phone earlier in the day and gone to Lowe, his next-door neighbor, to accuse him of stealing it. Later, Jiminez, who had a history of feuding with Lowe, found his cell phone in his own home, police said.

"He feels bad and goes over to meet his neighbor in a walkway area between their houses to apologize and things escalated from there," Keith said.

After being stabbed, Jiminez returned to his house, where his girlfriend called 911. He then staggered to the yard and collapsed.

Lowe was arrested without incident while walking less than a block away. A knife was recovered nearby, Keith said.

About 45 minutes later, officers received several dozen calls reporting gunfire in the 4900 block of Terrace Avenue, near Pleasant Valley Road.

David Anthony Zuniga and Ralph Ismael De La Cerda had been attending a small party when they stepped onto a patio to smoke cigarettes and were shot by a gunman who walked up, fired and then fled.

Zuniga, 36, of Port Hueneme was shot in the head and died at the scene.

De La Cerda, 29, of Oxnard died minutes later at St. John's hospital after being shot more than once in the torso, authorities said.

Although neither shooting victim was a documented gang member, Keith said the killings appeared gang-related.

Both men had lengthy criminal histories. Zuniga had been convicted of possessing and being under the influence of drugs, vandalism and petty theft, and De La Cerda had been convicted of robbery, battery and possession of marijuana, records show.

Officers interviewed several partygoers who said they could not see the victims on the porch and did not see the shootings.

"It's frustrating because nobody at the party saw anything ... and sometimes people don't want to talk," Keith said.

"These cases tend to get solved when someone comes forward with information, even when it's anonymous," he said.

The Rev. Larry Wayman, who for many years has organized community vigils for the families of the city's slain children, said the weekend violence "rips apart the fabric of our lives."

"These are our spouses and our fathers and sons. They are brothers to whom little ones look up to, and being the victims of homicides does not remove them from us as neighbors," Wayman said Monday.

Wayman, head of the North Oxnard Methodist Church, said residents must continue to support programs that help people find jobs and improve family relationships so that the "level of frustration and hopelessness" among the city's young men can be eased.

Oxnard City Councilman Andres Herrera also described the crimes as frustrating because officers "are doing their work as diligently as possible but these things keep happening."

Herrera said the council had worked closely with police officials to target high crime areas but that the "citizenry needs to helps us by stepping up with information and being our eyes and ears."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department's anonymous voicemail line at 982-7070.

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