Adrian Salgado said he never thought anything bad would happen to his son when he left to play football last November.
But after playing with his friends, 17-year-old Gabriel Salgado was shot in the head as he stood near an Oceano street corner, the victim of a seemingly random act of violence that the District Attorney’s Office says was a gang member’s attempt to bolster his reputation.
“Obviously, this is one of those things you think can’t happen to your kid,” Salgado said Tuesday at the San Luis Obispo County courthouse. “I just thought, ‘This can’t be real.’ ”
At the conclusion of a two-day preliminary hearing, Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett said there was enough evidence to pursue a trial for murder and gang charges against Armando Yepez, 21, who lived in Nipomo at the time of the drive-by shooting.
According to court testimony, Yepez — whom gang task force members had kept track of since 2006 — had exchanged words with Nipomo gang members while driving his pregnant girlfriend to work Nov. 17, 2011.
Angered by the confrontation, Yepez, a former Los Angeles gang member, later sought revenge. When he couldn’t find the Nipomo gang members, he spotted a group of youths in Oceano near the corner of 21st and Paso Robles streets and allegedly fired on the crowd, shouting an obscenity and calling them “oysters.”
“Oysters” is a derogatory term used to describe Oceano gang members, testified Michael Hoier, a deputy who works with the sheriff’s gang task force.Gabriel Salgado, who suffered a cardiac arrest after the shooting, died the next morning. Another teen was shot twice in the leg.
Originally from the Culver City area, Yepez had a history of confrontations with gangs in Oceano and Nipomo.
Eventually, a friend identified only as H.R. admitted to being in the car as Yepez fired the revolver. Later, H.R. secretly taped a conversation in which Yepez appeared to incriminate himself, another detective testified Monday.
“I didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody,” Yepez said when H.R. asked him about that day.
Defense attorney Gerald Carrasco said much of the prosecution’s evidence came from H.R., who had recently been in prison himself for assault with a deadly weapon.
“I think at some point, the credibility of H.R. will be called into question,” Carrasco said in court.
But Garrett said the H.R. testimony was corroborated by gun residue found in the car, cellphone records placing Yepez in Oceano at the time of the shooting and Yepez’s own comments.
Although testimony suggested the shooting was a random act committed by an agitated Yepez, prosecutor Craig Van Rooyen said the killing would be seen as an act of defiance in another gang’s town, even if the victims were not gang members themselves.
“It was done to make a point,” he argued.
After Yepez was ordered to stand trial — a trial date is pending — Salgado’s family members wept and celebrated.
“It’s bitter, but it’s sweet to see him sitting there,” said Salgado’s aunt, Irene Lopez, referring to Yepez.
The defendant showed no remorse, Adrian Salgado said, but his family is forever impacted by the shooting.
“It’s a perfect example of how one person’s reckless actions can affect other people’s lives,” he said. “He shot a child — a kid.”
His son, nicknamed “Ears,” has been described as an artistic teen who planned to attend Allan Hancock College. After he learned his only child had been killed, Salgado said, he became depressed.
“It tore me apart,” he said. “Losing my son made me want to take my own life. It was either that or go retaliate.” He eventually chose not to.Still, Salgado said, he feels guilty for what happened.
“His mistake is killing me,” he said of Yepez. “It’s like, ‘What could I have done to save my child?’ ”