Gang members shot men for wearing red, cops say

Gang members shot men for wearing red, cops say

Demian Bulwa,Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writers

Friday, July 10, 2009

(07-09) 13:44 PDT DALY CITY -- Two suspected members of the MS-13 gang have been arrested and a third is being sought in the Daly City slaying of a 21-year-old college student who was shot because his friends were wearing red - a color claimed by a rival gang - police said Thursday.

One of Moises Frias Jr.'s companions was wearing a red sweater, and another a red-and-white San Francisco 49ers cap, when their car was riddled with bullets near the Daly City BART Station on Feb. 19. Frias died before he could reach the hospital, and two of the other three young men in the car were wounded.

None of the victims had anything to do with gangs, investigators said.

"That's very stupid thinking," Moises Frias Sr. said after learning of the arrests. "They're going to shoot him just because of that? Why don't they just kill each other?"

The father said he would ask San Mateo County prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the killing, which he said devastated his family and made him fear for the safety of his surviving 18-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.

"I would never expect something like this to happen in my life," he said. "These guys, they destroyed my life, me and family, for nothing."

Daly City police Detective Gregg Oglesby noted that Frias' shooting was strikingly similar to the June 2008 killing of a San Francisco father, Tony Bologna, and his two sons in the Excelsior neighborhood. Prosecutors say another member of MS-13 - a subset of the Sureño gang, which claims the color blue - opened fire after mistaking one of the sons for a member of the rival Norteños, who claim red.

"It's a sad day that young Hispanic men can't wear a red sweater without somebody pointing fingers at them and thinking he's a gang member," Daly City police Lt. Jay Morena said.

Around the Bay Area, authorities say several such cases of mistaken gang affiliation in recent years have prompted killings, assaults and robberies. Many young Latino men say they are routinely "checked," or asked whether they are Norteño or Sureño.

"They don't do much verification of rival gang membership," Oglesby said. "It's a variation of racial profiling, but with potentially deadly consequences."

In the Daly City case, Danilo Velasquez, 28, was arrested early Wednesday in San Francisco. Luis Herrera, 18, was already at San Francisco County Jail on suspicion of auto theft and possession of a gun that was later determined to have been used to kill Frias, police said. Both have been charged with murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait, three counts of attempted murder and enhancements for participating in a criminal street gang and weapons possession.

A third alleged gang member, Jaime Balam, 20, was deported to his native Mexico eight days after the shooting - but before he was identified as a suspect - and is still being sought. Police said Balam, who had been deported once before, was picked up by federal immigration agents in San Francisco on Feb. 24.

Frias, who loved to dance to Mexican big band music and play baseball, was studying business at City College and was preparing to transfer to a state university. He was a technician at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission who hoped to build a career at the water agency.

His friends, too, were college students. One was in his first year of law school.

On the night they were attacked, police said, they were listening to loud rap music as they drove toward a restaurant in a Buick Regal. About 7 p.m., while the group was stopped at a light on John Daly Boulevard next to the Daly City BART Station, Velasquez and Balam jumped out of a stolen Honda Civic and sprayed the Buick with bullets from an assault rifle and a .380-caliber pistol, Morena said.

The men got back into the Honda, which was driven by Herrera, and sped onto Interstate 280, police said.

Frias, the Buick driver and another friend were shot. The driver managed to steer 2 miles to Seton Medical Center as the passenger who was unhurt called for help. Doctors met the young men in front of the hospital, but Frias was already dead.

The Honda, which had been stolen in San Francisco's Mission District, was found by police in the Castro a day after the slaying.

Daly City police had few other leads until March 4, when a "very alert" San Francisco police officer stopped a car in which Herrera was a passenger and arrested him on suspicion of auto theft and possession of a loaded .380-caliber pistol, Morena said.

Ballistics tests revealed that the pistol had been used in the Daly City shooting, Morena said.

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