Rash of shootings leads Utah police to crack down on gangs

By Russ Rizzo
The Salt Lake Tribune 

OGDEN, Utah Police plan to double their efforts to crack down on gangs in the wake of a double homicide Sunday that punctuated a recent spike in gang-related violence.

And Mayor Matthew Godfrey is preparing to announce several initiatives today to battle the crime wave.

Police and politicians alike say that seven gang-related shootings in a month are unacceptable in a city that has touted its decline in crime over the past eight years.

"We're going after [gangs]," Godfrey said. "We're not going to wait around and see if this subsides. This kind of increase happens in Salt Lake County, but it does not here, so we will be putting a stop to it."

Meanwhile, detectives on Monday recovered a GMC Denali they believe suspects drove in the gang-related shooting at a wedding party early Sunday that left two people dead and two injured.

Detectives also believe the shooting of a man found early Monday in an industrial area of the city was in retaliation for the wedding shootings.

Lt. Tony Fox said no arrests have been made, but police are seeking several people, mainly Riqo M. Perea, 19, who, according to court records, was already a fugitive for a probation violation stemming from a weapons conviction.

Perea is wanted for questioning in the deaths of Sabrina Prieto, 22, and Resendo-Nava Navarez, 29, who were shot about 1 a.m. at a house at 717 E. 1050 North in the city's first homicides in a year. Both victims were cousins of the bride, family friends said.

Police said a group of five men - at least some of whom are gang members showed up at the house, where about 30 people were celebrating the wedding. Someone at the party yelled a slur about the group's gang - a rival to gang members at the party and an argument erupted, said Lt. Loring Draper, head of the Ogden gang unit.

The men jumped into the Denali and opened fire with a .22-caliber handgun, shooting about 10 rounds into the crowd, striking four people, police said.

A 22-year-old woman who was hit in the torso remained hospitalized Monday.

Richard Lee Esquivel, 23, was struck in the left shoulder and buttocks. Esquivel said he could only watch as Navarez lay dying on the ground, clenching his fists in pain.

"He was trying to fight it but couldn't," said Esquivel, who wore a blue arm sling Monday. "After a while, he just gave up."

Esquivel denied any gang affiliation among anyone involved.

"Innocent people died for nothing," Esquivel said. "It's only getting worse and worse. But what can you do?"

For one thing, Draper plans to double the size of his four-man gang squad temporarily.

"It's been a lousy month," Draper said. "I'm not sure if they're getting more violent or just getting more accurate. We're trying to get a handle on it."

Early Sunday, someone shot five shotgun rounds from a car into a house in the 3100 block of Kiesel Avenue, apparently in retaliation for the double murder, Fox said.

Then, about 3:30 a.m. Monday, a security guard patrolling the Ogden Industrial Complex found a 28-year-old who had been shot seven times, in the hand, ear, shoulder and above the groin, also apparently in retaliation for the wedding shooting, Fox said. He is expected to live, Fox said.

Also, rival gang members shot at each other at 26th Street and Washington Boulevard on Saturday. Two stray bullets struck the car of an innocent nearby motorist whose 5-year-old child rode in the back seat, police said.

The recent violence involves four main gangs with mostly Latino members, Draper said. The department maintains a list of 1,600 suspected gang members, about a fourth of whom are active, Draper said. Of those, "a tiny percentage" get involved with violent crime, he said.

Godfrey said he plans to announce today an initiative with Sen. Orrin Hatch to bolster national crime legislation, including tougher laws on immigrants in the country illegally. He also hopes to strengthen the city's good-landlord program, which reduces fees for landlords who keep convicts from renting from them, among other things.

"This is a town now that expects not to see these things happen," Godfrey said. "The threshold for accepting crime has been lowered, and we plan to keep it that way."

On Monday, a makeshift memorial consisting of candles, a black baseball cap, dark sunglasses, a red bandana and several posters with farewells scrawled by friends of Prieto remained on the front lawn of the home where she and Navarez were killed.

One note written in red marker read: "I miss you and love you so much. You didn't deserve any of this."

Copyright 2007 The Salt Lake Tribune

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