Oceano shooting suspect chose targets randomly, investigator says

Witness depicts shooting as random act by an unrepentant former gang member

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comAugust 27, 2012 

Angered by an encounter he’d had with Nipomo gang members, an alleged former Los Angeles gang member randomly targeted a group of Oceano teens standing near a street corner and began shooting, a detective with the District Attorney’s Office testified Monday.

During the incident last November, 17-year-old Gabriel Salgado — an Oceano resident with no gang ties — was killed. A 14-year-old boy standing near him was shot in the leg.

Armando Yepez of Santa Maria appeared in court for a preliminary hearing Monday as several members of Salgado’s family — many wearing shirts bearing his image — sat quietly in the courtroom audience.

Yepez, who was 21 when he was arrested in May, faces charges of murder, attempted murder and committing a crime for the benefit of a street gang.

The rare drive-by shooting shocked members of the community. The alleged shooter’s identity was unknown to Oceano residents until Yepez was arrested during a Highway 101 traffic stop six months after the incident.

While it’s still not known how Yepez was identified, testimony Monday revealed that a key witness for the prosecution is a friend of the defendant’s — identified by authorities only as “H.R.” — who said he was with Yepez during the shooting.

The friend allegedly spoke to investigator Mark Vallely, who gave the following account:

While driving his pregnant girlfriend to work on Nov. 17, Yepez encountered a carload of Nipomo gang members, and “gang verbiage” was exchanged.

Angered, Yepez later picked up H.R. and vowed revenge.

The two drove around Nipomo looking for the gang members but did not find them. Yepez and H.R. then drove to San Luis Obispo to buy cocaine — though they didn’t procure any — and later returned to the South County.

While in Oceano, Yepez, driving his girlfriend’s Toyota Avalon, approached five people standing near a street corner and told his friend, “There’s some oysters up there.”

“Oysters” was a derogatory term Yepez used for residents of Nipomo and Oceano. Yepez, a former member of the 18th Street gang in Southern California, had been having problems with gang members from both places.

As he approached the crowd, Yepez grabbed a silver revolver that had been in the car and told H.R. to roll down the window. H.R. later said he thought Yepez was joking. Yepez then leaned over and fired several shots.

H.R., who met Yepez shortly after H.R. was released from prison, told investigators he was “very upset, surprised and shaken” by the incident, though he did not report the crime afterward.

Instead, the two drove north, attempted to wipe the car of gun residue and discarded the bullet casings.

Later, Yepez’s girlfriend noticed the car smelled like baby wipes, testified David Kenny, a detective with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, who interviewed her.

The girlfriend told Kenny that, after watching news coverage of the shooting with Yepez, she began to suspect he might be involved. But when she asked whether he was, he allegedly said, “If you ask me, I’m just going to tell you I didn’t do it.”

Salgado died the morning after the shooting. An autopsy revealed he had two bullet fragments in his head.

While there was no mention how H.R. was contacted, he and Yepez were recorded together by surveillance cameras the day of the shooting, Vallely said.

After he was contacted by police in May, H.R. agreed to secretly record Yepez during a conversation. During the conversation, played at Monday’s hearing, H.R. asked Yepez whether he felt remorse over the killing.

“Nah,” Yepez said. “That’s nothing, dude.”

The preliminary hearing will continue in San Luis Obispo Superior Court today.

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