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Family in Shock After Dutchman Road Slaying

Sheriff's Office detectives released no new information about the investigation Wednesday.

The Watsonville man gunned down while mowing his neighbor's front yard was Ralph Cendejas, his family and the Sheriff's Office confirmed Wednesday.

Cendejas, 42, was as he worked in the yard at 301 Dutchman Rd. Cendejas lives a couple doors down from that house with his father, according to his brother-in-law, Luis Sanchez.

"He was just mowing the guy's lawn here and he's gone now," Sanchez said.

Cendejas, a father of three sons, had taken up mowing lawns and repairing electronics to make money. He'd been out of work for a couple of years and had trouble with drugs in the past, but his family said he was a jovial guy who loved to help kids in the neighborhood fix their video games.

"He was a super cool guy, really smart," Sanchez said.

Cendejas had grown up in the neighborhood. Sanchez said matter-of-factly that he believed Cendejas would be more in danger in Mexico, where he spent some time recently, than rural Watsonville.

The neighborhood is an enclave of single-family homes with cheery flowers growin in front yards north of Watsonville city limits. The area is surrounded by farm land and families often walk up the street to Mesa Verde County Park so their kids can play.

"I never imagined that would happen to him here," Sanchez said.

Sanchez actually was at the park with his 4-year-old daughter when Cendejas was shot. His father-in-law called and told him to come home because "they killed my son," Sanchez recalled.

Cendejas was shot five times at close range. Sheriff's detectives believe he was targeted, though they haven't said why.

The shooting was the second homicide in South County in four days. Brandon Gil, 21, was fatally stabbed in downtown Watsonville on Saturday night. No arrests have been made in that case and Watsonville police investigators don't believe the two slayings are related.

Sanchez said his brother-in-law may have been having money troubles and that people had been coming around looking for him.

And, although the neighborhood has an idyllic feel, around the corner from Cendejas's house gang graffiti was scrawled across a fence and the Sheriff's Office has responded to gang crimes there in the past.

Tuesday night's deadly shooting happened as the Watsonville and Santa Cruz city councils held a joint meeting in Watsonville to discuss gang prevention programs and other youth issues. The Santa Cruz Sentinel report on the meeting is here.

Anyone with information about the fatal shooting should contact the Investigations Bureau at 831-454-2311 or the anonymous tip line at 831-454-2847.

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