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Nunez son may have gang links

Four suspects in a fatal San Diego stabbing identify themselves as The Hazard Crew members, police say.

December 04, 2008|Tony Perry and Patrick McGreevy | Perry and McGreevy are Times staff writers.

SAN DIEGO AND SACRAMENTO — Esteban Nunez, the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, and three other men who were arrested in the fatal stabbing of a college student in San Diego fit the definition of a criminal street gang, police said in search warrants released Wednesday.

Nunez and his companions identified themselves as members of The Hazard Crew or THC, according to the documents. THC is an abbreviation for the active chemical ingredient in marijuana. Nunez, 19, has a biohazard symbol on his right arm, and the other defendants have similar tattoos, police said.

Hours before the Oct. 4 killing, Nunez and another defendant talked about how they had learned to gang up on victims and take turns punching them, a woman told police.

The four men are accused of murder in the death of 22-year-old Luis Dos Santos, a Mesa College student, after a night of drinking at a party near San Diego State University.

San Diego Police Capt. Jim Collins said the defendants, all from the Sacramento area, did not know Santos but taunted him and four friends, then attacked them with knives.

The fatal fight allegedly took only 30 seconds. Santos died of a single stab wound to the heart, collapsing in front of the campus gym. Nunez told his friends that, if they were charged, his father could get them off on a self-defense argument, according to court documents.

The picture of Nunez that police presented Wednesday contrasts sharply with how others who know the Sacramento City College business student describe him.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a longtime friend of the Nunez family, said: "I've known him since he was a little boy. He's a great kid, a good boy."

Vanessa Huber of Upland, another close family friend, echoed the mayor's comments: "He's a good kid. I've never heard him raise his voice about anything. I'm so shocked. I don't know what to think."

Collins told reporters Wednesday that Nunez received no special treatment because of the prominence of his father. "We'll treat him as any other suspect," he said.

On Sunday, Nunez's father finished the last of his three terms in the Assembly, representing a district that extends from Boyle Heights to downtown Los Angeles. He also served four years as speaker, pushing through landmark legislation on environmental and labor issues. After a spike in gang violence in Los Angeles, he wrote a bill last year that created a state office to oversee efforts to reduce gang violence.

In a statement released Wednesday, he said: "This is a very difficult and painful experience for every family involved. Maria and I love our children very much. We are confident our son Esteban will be cleared of the charges he is facing. We will continue to fully cooperate with all law enforcement officials and have faith in our system of justice."

The former speaker said earlier this year that he had no immediate plans to run for political office again.

Esteban Nunez graduated from Rio Americano High School near Sacramento in 2007, said a school spokesman. He also went to Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento and Damien High School in LaVerne, his MySpace profile indicates.

The athletic director at Christian Brothers, Jill Bennett, recalled that Nunez and his sister were at the private school for only a short time and that he was a "fairly quiet" student.

On his MySpace page, Nunez listed his heroes as farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez and rapper Tupac Shakur. His favorite movies include "Scarface" and "Gang Related." Much of the material was removed from the site Wednesday.

A search of his apartment in Sacramento, conducted just days after the killing, did not reveal any weapons, according to the warrant. Police did find a bloody pair of shorts.

Search warrants also allege that friends of the suspects said they tried to destroy evidence by burning it and throwing it in the Sacramento River.

All four were arrested without incident in Sacramento County on Tuesday. Arrested with Nunez were Ryan Jett, 22; Rafael Garcia, 19; and Leshanor Thomas, 19.

The victim's father, Fred Santos, told reporters that he was glad that arrests had been made, but that "nothing can bring my son back."

Nunez and the other defendants will be arraigned today in San Diego County Superior Court. Each faces one charge of murder, three of assault with a deadly weapon and one of vandalism for allegedly slashing the tires of construction equipment.

Although the affidavits indicate that police suspect they may be a gang, gang affiliation was not included in the charges.

Police found a switchblade knife and marijuana pipe in Garcia's apartment, according to the search warrants. Police said Garcia described members of his gang in a MySpace.com comment: ". . . ain't nobody like us maayn we the tightest crew (THC). Me, ditto, zach, Elliott, Daniel, joe, estaban, sam, will, john, tyler, chris, jett, jesus, Justin, Robert, ryan, jesse, matt, richard and spencer."

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