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Police Out in Force After 3 Slain in Oxnard

May 28, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Reacting to the bloodiest weekend in more than a decade, Oxnard police have stepped up patrols and undercover operations all over town, hoping to quell the recent spike in violence and solve last weekend's slayings.

"We've got many detectives out there, looking for witnesses, talking to people," police spokesman David Keith said Tuesday. "There's just a lot more personnel out there."

More than a dozen off-duty police officers and detectives have been called in since three men were killed in two separate incidents Sunday, officials said. Police have been conducting interviews and are on guard in case of violent acts of retaliation, said Police Chief Art Lopez.

In the longer term, Lopez said, the department hopes to add "a substantial" number of officers to its seven-member gang unit.

The relatively quiet holiday weekend was shattered when one man was fatally stabbed after an argument with a neighbor and two others were shot to death in a possibly gang-related incident less than an hour later.

The slayings bring Oxnard's homicide total this year to 12 -- the same number it logged for all of last year. Oxnard authorities have said that the majority of the killings were not gang-related.

"They need to look at them as separate incidents," Lopez said. "They are in no way connected ... there's no indication that there's a gang war or that there's going to be any additional type of criminal actions taking place."

In the first homicide, officers found Gregorio Jimenez, 33, lying in his backyard in the La Colonia district with a stab wound to his chest. Jimenez, a Mexican national who had worked at various factories and packaging houses in the area, died a short time later at St. John's Regional Medical Center.

Jimenez's neighbor and friend, Adam Lowe, 28, has been arrested on suspicion of murder in the case. He is scheduled to be arraigned today.

According to Maria Orona, Jimenez's girlfriend, the men, who often frequented each other's homes, were having a good time eating and drinking during a gathering at Jimenez's house when Jimenez wrongly accused Lowe of taking a fellow partygoer's cell phone.

Lowe left, upset. When the phone was found under a wastebasket, Jimenez went next door to apologize, Orona said.

A few moments later, a bleeding Jimenez staggered back to his yard, where Orona called police.

"I told him 'Don't go after him,' but how would he expect that from a friend that's been like a brother to him?" Orona said. "I can't forget how he fell down at my feet and died."

As Orona talked Tuesday, Lowe's teary-eyed girlfriend passed by, and the two women waved at each other.

Lowe's family "are really in pain right now, too, because they were so close to" Jimenez, said Orona. "They used to call him primo," or cousin.

Jimenez, who has an 11-year-old son from a prior relationship, will be buried in Mexico.

Less than an hour later, authorities responded to reports of 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. They 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 later at St. John's Regional Medical Center from shots to the torso.

The men are not documented gang members, but police believe the incident is gang-related. Both men had lengthy criminal histories.

Because none of the partygoers saw anything, police are hoping someone will come forward.

"The most important thing we can stress is that we need cooperation and information" from the public, Keith said. "We're not sitting idly by waiting for a phone call, but it would help if" the public cooperates.

The Police Department's anonymous tip number is 982-7070.

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