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County Death Toll Hits 17 in Violent Weekend

A double and triple homicide add to a surge in what is often the year's deadliest month. Most of the recent victims are Latino men.

August 10, 2004|Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writer

At least 17 people died from shootings and assaults in Los Angeles County during an exceptionally violent weekend that marked the start of the area's traditional peak period for homicides.

August is the worst month for killings in the county, but the tally from the first full weekend of the month this year was worse than usual.

Two double homicides in South Los Angeles and one triple homicide in South Gate boosted the total.

Victims were spread from Valinda to Van Nuys and included a single mother of four who was killed in an unexplained street shooting, and a 79-year-old man who struck his head on a sidewalk during a fight.

But most of the victims were young Latino males, such as Jorge Valenzuela, 21, of Los Angeles, one of five young men sprayed with gunfire during a particularly brutal incident just after noon on Sunday in the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Street Division.

Valenzuela was standing with the four other young men on a sidewalk just east of Figueroa Street on West 60th Street when the assailants drove by in a black pickup truck firing a 9-millimeter handgun into the crowd, police said.

Valenzuela died at a hospital a short time later. Alfonso Herrera, 23, Herrera's younger brother Jorge, 16, and Ricardo Zepeda, 18, were hospitalized in critical condition and a fifth victim was less seriously injured.

"This just shouldn't happen," Valenzuela's stepfather, Michael Lee, said Monday, standing on the spot where his son was hit by bullets.

White and red roses and candles decked the sidewalk. A crowd stood somberly as the Herreras' mother wailed. And the Herrera brothers' two teenage sisters sat beside the candles with blank, pale faces and fixed eyes, a bullet hole in the wall behind them.

Lee, who stopped with his wife to add a photo of Valenzuela to the memorial, described his stepson as "a fun-filled kid" who had just been hired at the Boeing Co. in Long Beach.

Valenzuela was 6 feet 2 and 300 pounds and had been under so much pressure to join gangs at Fremont High School that he dropped out, Lee said.

Lee said Valenzuela had stopped to talk to a group of friends who neighbors say frequently gathered to play basketball there.

The killers "were just a group looking for a group ... an execution by a bunch of fools," Lee said.

The tally from Friday to Monday represented an unusual surge, though not the largest Los Angeles has seen.

The county averages about 25 homicides a week, with about a dozen occurring within the Los Angeles city limits -- roughly half on weekends.

Attacks of the style that killed Valenzuela were repeated again and again between Friday and Monday.

Beginning on Friday afternoon, bystander David Michael Merino, 26, was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting near Avalon Boulevard and Manchester Avenue.

Struck in the chest, Merino died on Saturday, said Det. Sal La Barbera of LAPD's Southeast Division.

Incidents that followed included one Saturday afternoon in which Joshua Quispe, 18, was killed in a car near Adams Boulevard and 10th Avenue about 4:20 p.m., police officials said.

Early Sunday, three young men were standing outside 10500 Elizabeth Avenue in South Gate when someone drove by, firing numerous rounds.

Adolfo Mendoza, 25, of South Gate, Osbaldo Gonzalez, 26, of Los Angeles and Bernardo Guzman, 27, of Huntington Park all died.

Just before 4 a.m. Filiberto Melendrez Flores, 21, was walking near 88th Place and Stanford Avenue in Watts when a man got out of a black sedan and shot him to death.

And just before midnight Sunday, Herman Crenshaw, 31, of Los Angeles and Linda Lee Lovenburg, 35, of Huntington Beach were driving near 58th Place and Brynhurst Avenue in South Los Angeles when four men standing on a corner opened fire, police said. Both were hit multiple times in the upper body, and died shortly after.

Lovenburg left four children, ages 16 to 6, police said.

Police released more fragmentary details of several other weekend homicides.

The victims included a young man in his 20s who police found Saturday evening lying in the street with a gunshot wound in his back in the 4000 block of West 23rd Street and an unidentified 79-year-old man who hit his head on the sidewalk in Van Nuys during a fight Friday and died Sunday.

Among the weekend's final victims were an unidentified woman shot outside 16500 Doublegrove St. in Valinda on Sunday evening, and Raul Alonso Topete, 21, a serviceman who was shot in the 5800 block of Willoughby Avenue in Hollywood about 2 a.m. Sunday.

*

Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.

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