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UPDATED Cops Find Car Connected to Parking Lot Shooting

Police chief says the gang slaying was a crime of opportunity; investigators aren't close to making an arrest.

Police investigating the latest murder in Watsonville caught a break when a sheriff's deputy spotted the car involved in Saturday's fatal shooting in the Target parking lot.

Watsonville Police Sgt. Saul Gonzalez said a deputy found the car abandoned in the Watsonville city limits Saturday night. He declined to say where the green Honda Accord was discovered or release much information about the car.

The car carried the suspected gang member who opened fire on Gustavo Diaz Saragoza and his girlfriend around 6:15 p.m. Saturday in the busy shopping mall parking lot. His girlfriend, a 25-year-old Purnedale woman.

The car sped off after the fatal shooting.

Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano said the violence happened quickly and didn't appear planned.

"I think this was just an opporutnity for these guys who had a gun in the car," he said.

A judge signed a search warrant giving investigators the OK to sift through the contents of the abandoned car. Gonzalez said officers searched the vehicle Monday, but declined to say what—if anything—they found. He also said the car hadn't been reported stolen and would not release who it was registered to.

When asked if police were close making an arrest in the homicide Gonzalez replied "no, not at all."

However, it differed from the other killings because Saragoza was gunned down in broad daylight in an area bustling with families—the video surveillance tape of the parking lot released by police show more than a dozen shoppers coming and going from Target, many of them children.

Solano said that overall crime in Watsonville is down, continuing the trend from 2011, "but of course the issue of gang violence—and especially homicides—is a concern because that's on an increase."

No arrests have been made in connection with any of the homicides. Investigators have said they don't believe the killings are connected, except all are gang-motivated.

The bigger question remains: What is causing this upsurge in gang violence?

Solano said he couldn't point to any one factor. Police have arrested several suspected gang members whom authorities characterize as higher-ups in local gangs. Those changes in gang leadership could account for some of the violence, but police had no clear answer.

A way to quell the violence also is unclear.

Solano outlined gang prevention efforts his department will utilize in the coming days:

  • He wants to bring together community-based organizations to strategize gang intervention, maybe help stem retaliation and also talk with the families touched by the recent violence.
  • The police department's Post-Incident Team, a group of community leaders, cops and volunteers, will go door-to-door in some Watsonville neighborhoods on Tuesday to reach out to affected residents.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 2, is National Night Out, a country-wide crime and drug prevention event. Police are working with Target management to host an event in the parking lot where Saragoza died. "People can make a real personal stand against gangs and violence by coming to this event," Solano said.

Also,  Solano said his staff would continue to focus on get weapons off the streets.

Police will step up patrols in populated areas, like the Target parking lot, while continuing to have a presence in neighborhoods.

"It's hard to predict where these things happen," Solano explained.

jessica hernandez July 26, 2011 at 12:53 AM
HOPE THEY FIND THE SUSPECTS.

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