SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A rash of violence over the past week that led to the deaths of four people, two of them cousins, prompted Santa Ana officials Wednesday to reach out for public help in rounding up suspects, which could mean a reward of up to $50,000 for a tipster.
In two of the four cases, police have made arrests, Police Chief Carlos Rojas said.
The spree of violence started about 10:30 p.m. last Wednesday when a security found found 23-year-old Joseph Frank Garcia shot to death behind a shuttered grocery store building at 1900 N. Grand Ave., next to a tan Honda Accord stolen from Costa Mesa, according to Rojas.
Investigators suspect the shooting was gang-related. Garcia had a history of drug-related offenses, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
About 10:40 p.m. Thursday, police were called to the same location, when a female cousin of Garcia's was struck by a car while attending a candlelight vigil in his memory.
Sonny Steven Zieres, 26, of Orange was charged Wednesday afternoon with murder for allegedly running over 27-year-old Trisha Irene Verdugo of Santa Ana. Zieres also faces sentencing enhancements for the personal use of a deadly
weapon -- in this case the car -- and a prior serious and violent felony conviction for assault with a deadly weapon in 2009 in Orange County, according to prosecutors.
Zieres could face up to 56 years to life in prison if convicted because of the prior strike.
Zieres' girlfriend, Claudia Trejo, 29, of Orange, was charged with a felony count of being an accessory after the fact and could face up to three years in county jail if convicted.
Verdugo and other friends and family of Garcia confronted Zieres about a "disturbance" that was being caused with the vehicle near the memorial, police said. Zieres is accused of driving the car into a group of three, running over Verdugo, as they were walking away.
A cousin of Verdugo's -- who only wanted to be identified as Melissa -- said of her family's grief, "Our hearts are broken and we're in so much pain."
Melissa said her cousin was an "amazing woman," who graduated from nursing school and was about to start a new job in a doctor's office.
"She was on the right path. She knew what she wanted," she said, adding that the family has had trouble explaining Verdugo's death to her 2-year-old daughter.
"Still, to this day, she says, `When is mommy coming home from work?"'Verdugo went to the candlelight vigil seeking "closure" in Garcia's death, Melissa said.
On Sunday about 1:44 p.m., 20-year-old Santiago Jorge Marin Trejo was fatally shot after reputed fellow gang members Nick Torres, 19, Manuel Saucedo, 20, and Jose Brian Heredia, 19, all of Santa Ana, allegedly went looking for rival gang members.
Trejo and the other three confronted a rival gang member with a baseball bat in the 800 block of south Flower Street, Rojas alleged. The rival gang member ran away to a nearby home near Cubbon and Garnsey streets, the chief said.
As Trejo and the others chased after the rival gang member, a group of suspected gang members left a nearby residence and shots were fired, Rojas said. Trejo was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Because Trejo and the others allegedly sparked the fight, Torres, Saucedo and Heredia will be charged under the "provocative act" legal theory of murder, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said. Anyone
setting in motion a violent situation in which someone dies can be held accountable for murder, the county's top prosecutor explained.
Later Sunday, about 10:40 p.m. and 1 1/2 miles away at 620 E. Pine St., 19-year-old Jaime De Castilla Campos, who was a local gang member, was gunned down, Rojas said.
Campos was apparently selling drugs when shots rang out, the chief said.
"We believe there are a lot of witnesses out there," Rojas said.
The chief said it was rare to have so many violent incidents in such a short time. The city offers up to $50,000 in reward money depending on the value of a tip leading to an arrest, he said, adding that anonymous tips are also welcome.
Anyone with information was asked to call (714) 245-8648.
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