SALINAS, Calif. - A 21-year-old man was arrested Monday on suspicion of opening fire outside a Salinas taco shop during a pre-dawn gang brawl, killing three people and injuring four others in the city that has seen 10 killings in 12 days.
Giovanni Pacheco was taken into custody hours after the shooting and booked into Monterey County Jail on three counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder, Salinas police said.
The 1:30 a.m. shooting happened after a fight inside Taco's Choice restaurant spilled outside, police said. It was the latest in a spate of recent violence.
Arriving officers found a 22-year-old man dead from gunshot wounds. A 28-year-old man who also was shot several times was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A 25-year-old man died from gunshot wounds Monday afternoon after he was taken to the hospital in critical condition, said Cmdr. Sheldon Bryan.
Cmdr. Dave Shaw said the shooting occurred after two different groups in the restaurant started brawling.
The conflict moved into a parking lot, where it grew into "a pretty decent-sized fight" before someone pulled a handgun and began firing into the crowd, Shaw said. The four other victims, including a 53-year-old woman who was shot multiple times, were expected to survive.
Detectives were gathering surveillance videos from neighbouring business and interviewing witnesses.
Salinas, a farming town in Central California, has seen an uptick in violent crime in recent weeks, Shaw said. There have been 14 killings so far this year, including 10 in the past 12 days. Last year, there were 22, including at least 11 that were confirmed to be gang-related.
"There's no real way to find out what's motivating these guys to pick it up all of a sudden," Shaw said.
The taco shop shooting occurred just hours after a 23-year-old Salinas man was shot and killed after stepping outside of his apartment to make a phone call. Shaw said two people approached him and opened fire. No arrests have been made.
Shaw said authorities have been trying to get ahead of the violence.
On Friday, police fanned out with state and federal law enforcement officers for a crackdown on potential gang members, sending out 70 officers who conducted 10 probation and parole searches, about 70 traffic stops, and numerous pedestrian checks in areas known for gang activity. Eleven people were arrested.
Salinas, a city of 150,000, has long battled gang violence and frequently has one of the state's highest gang-related homicide rates. Just 30 miles north of two major prisons, the main rivalry in town is between the Nortenos and Surenos, gangs that once were largely confined to Northern and Southern California, respectively, but now are doing battle in much of the state.
Brian Contreras, who heads an anti-gang Salinas non-profit called Second Chance Family and Youth Services, is frustrated by his city's periodic surges in violence.
"There's just an extreme lack of care for life among some people," he said. "And there's a real lack of mentors, role models. Where are their dads?"
Contreras said police sweeps often help curtail the violence, "but it is not going to stop until there are more significant changes and we start focusing on the prevention end."