Isaac Vela probably never knew what hit him. At 3 a.m. Sunday, the young Latin King was waiting for a ride on a barely paved street in front of a ramshackle house in the scraggly South Texas town. Suddenly a Ford Escape containing five armed men belonging to the rival Raza Unida gang came roaring down the road and opened fire on a car near where Vela was standing. Occupants of the second car returned fire.
A bullet fired at close range tore through Vela's face and skull. He was dead when police arrived, brass casings and plastic shotgun shells from several different guns smoldering in the grass near Vela's body.
Some of the men who fired those bullets met their maker before those shells even had time to cool. The Escape tore around the corner, with the second car in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for its occupants, the Escape did not live up to its name. Its driver failed to negotiate a turn at a T-junction, flattened a fence and smashed into the school attached to the church of St. Joseph, patron of happy death.
When police found the smoldering wreckage of the crumpled Escape, they found the driver, 25-year-old Dagoberto Baiza, dead inside. Next to him was the body of the front-seat passenger, 28-year-old Juan Benavides, a father of three kids aged four and under. Benavides and Baiza both suffered gunshot wounds, but authorities have yet to say if it was the bullets or the crash that killed them. Also unknown: if they were shot before or after the crash.
Thirty-year-old backseat passenger Omar Beltran and the guy sitting next to him -- a 55-year-old apparent O.G. named Daniel Robledo -- were cut free of the SUV via the jaws of life. Beltran succumbed to head trauma hours later. Though his condition was critical, AARP-eligible Robledo was the only survivor. He was also the one guy you think would know better than to be out gangbanging with (and against) kids half or even one-third his age, but once you look at his truly staggering criminal record, you get the idea he's the type who will never learn.
Police also found a .45 caliber pistol and a 9mm in the wreckage.
Days later, Alice police arrested 23-year-old Latin King Andrew Garcia and charged him with murder. He is being held at the Jim Wells County Jail on $1 million bail.
Police chief Daniel Bueno says it's an all-out gang war pitting the Latin Kings versus La Raza Unida (not to be confused with the political party of the same name). Many of the combatants in the town once known as Bandana are related to each other, he told KRIS.
And the trouble has continued into this week. Shots were fired at an empty pickup truck belonging to a gang member yesterday, and police answered yet another shots fired call last night. No arrests have been made in those cases, but police have rounded up several suspected gang members on gun and drug charges.
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Nine people have been killed in the town of 19,000 people the first seven months of this year. Unofficial world murder capital Juarez had 3,622 murders in 2011 and a mere 1,976 last year. (An elephant in the room not mentioned in any of the ten or so news reports we read on this mayhem: Might this somehow trace back to the cartels across the Rio Grande?)
At Alice's rate, Houston would have a staggering 5,000 murder victims by the end of the year.
We'll let Nathan Ortiz, the concerned older brother of an Alice gangbanger, have the last word.
"It's because of the dominance," Ortiz told KRIS. "One person thinks he is better or bigger then the other, or badder. But what they don't realize, I guess they haven't figured it out, there is going to be someone bigger and badder. Why are you even trying? Until everybody is dead? That's why they are killing, for peace."