Teen suspect in gang shooting caught inside Watsonville clothing store; victim, 18, recovering

Jennifer Squires – Sentinel staff writer
Article Launched: 04/16/2008 01:32:10 AM PDT

WATSONVILLE — An 18-year-old who was shot in a Monday gang altercation that led to the evacuation of the Ross Outlet Store on Main Street is expected to recover, and the suspected shooter is behind bars, according to police.

Sgt. Terry Traub said the shooting was gang-related, but that it was not connected to the Sunday afternoon shooting and car accident on Green Valley Road that sent one man to a trauma center with a serious brain injury and injured three others.

“We do know that this shooting had absolutely nothing to do with the shooting the [Sheriff’s Office] had,” Traub said.

The suspect in Monday’s shooting, Luis Alberto Vasquez, 18, of Las Lomas, was booked into County Jail on suspicion of attempted murder, participating in a street gang and using a firearm, police reported.

The victim, who lives in Watsonville, suffered a gunshot wound to the head and was taken to Watsonville Community Hospital for treatment, according to police. The wound is not considered life-threatening.

Apparently, Vasquez and the victim were arguing in the street near Montebello Court and Montebello Drive just before 4 p.m., Traub said. Witnesses said the teens yelled gang slurs at one another, then Vasquez started to walk away. However, he turned back toward the victim and fired one shot from a small-caliber handgun, Traub said. The shot hit the victim in the head and Vasquez ran, according to police.

Officers were first called at 3:53 p.m. because people were chasing after and trying to fight a man inside the Ross at 1455 Main St., which is a few blocks southeast of the neighborhood where the shooting took place.

Around the same time, officers responding to the store pulled over a vehicle that was speeding away from Montebello Drive and Clifford Avenue and found the gunshot victim inside the car. Officers were dispatched to the scene of the shooting.

Back at Ross, police learned the man being chased through the store was the suspect in the shooting. Vasquez was detained, but did not have a gun with him. People who had witnessed the shooting — including some of the men who chased the suspect into Ross — identified Vasquez as the shooter, Traub said.

With the help of Ross staff, officers cleared the store of customers, had a police dog search the building to ensure no one else was hiding inside, then brought in Watsonville police cadets to look for a gun. Cadets teamed with store employees to search aisle-by-aisle and found the gun hidden in merchandise, police reported. Traub did not say what product the gun had been concealed in.

Police cadets were then sent to the shooting scene to search for shell casings. The cadets found a casing near the spot where the shot was fired, Traub said.

Traub praised Ross employees and the police cadets for their assistance in the investigation. He said having the cadets — who are teenagers and not sworn officers — conduct the searches freed up officers to patrol.

“That put the officers back on the street,” Traub said, adding that police were concerned about gang members retaliating and even Police Chief Terry Medina was out in neighborhoods for a while Monday night. “We had extra people out last night.”

Police said the warmer, sunnier weather could be the reason there has been more gang violence in recent days — a 14-year-old boy was stabbed in a gang-related fight Thursday night in Watsonville — but that there is no underlying issue, like a turf war, that is sparking the violence.

“The gangs are out a little bit more. It’s the same cycle you go through,” Traub said. “There’s no way we can really pinpoint why the gangs are heating up.”

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