Friday, July 19, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 20

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 12th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 41

Santa Maria police investigate second murder in two days, seventh of the year

By Kasey Bubnash

The sun was just beginning to set on Santa Maria's north side on Dec. 10 as a small group gathered near the corner of West Bunny Avenue and North Blosser Road, where a white cross hung from a wooden fence, surrounded by bright blue balloons and flowers.

A young girl sobbed as she walked toward the cross, and she pressed her face into the side of an older attendee's torso as he reached out to embrace her. As others arrived, they prayed, hugged, and consoled one another. 

Vicente De Jesus Medina Guerrero, a 21-year-old Bakersfield resident, was shot multiple times there a few days earlier on Dec. 6. Despite the Santa Maria Police Department's efforts to save his life, Guerreo died at the scene a little after 10:30 that night.

On the other side of town on Dec. 10, a group of boys gathered around a tree on West Enos Drive that was nearly completely engulfed by flowers, votive candles, and emptied Modelo bottles and cans. 

Adrian Alvarez, an 18-year-old Santa Marian, was shot and killed there on Dec. 8, just two days after Guerrero's murder. 

Flowers, votive candles, and emptied Modelo bottles and cans lay near a tree on West Enos Drive, where 18-year-old Adrian Alvarez was shot and killed on Dec. 8. To leave tips or information regarding the case, call the Santa Maria Police Department at (805) 928-3781, Ext. 2677.

Now Santa Maria police are simultaneously investigating two fatal shootings, a process that police say is extensive and time consuming, and that has been carried out for each of the city's seven homicides this year. 

While the most recent two murders do not appear to be connected, Lt. Paul Van Meel said police have not yet identified suspects or motives in either case. Gang affiliations have not been ruled out or confirmed, Van Meel said, and few other details will be released throughout the investigations. 

Right now, Van Meel said police are working to get witnesses to share information, whether it be anonymously or not, because he said there are some who "almost certainly know what happened."

Getting people to talk is just one small part of each homicide investigation, which are always taxing for the police department, according to Chief Phil Hansen. The process, he said, typically includes vast neighborhood canvassing efforts, in-depth searches of homes and electronic devices, interviews with witnesses and suspects, camera footage seizures, and all the legal paperwork that goes with. 

It's a process that demands high levels of staffing and resources, Hansen said, and lower priority cases, which are often pushed aside for the duration of  murder investigations, take hits. 

So it's beneficial to both the general public and the police department when the city invests in crime prevention efforts, which Hansen said it has been since homicide rates took a massive leap up from three in 2014 to 13 in 2015. 

The department launched several enforcement and prevention efforts in response, including a special enforcement team that deals specifically with deterring gang activity, and increased community and youth outreach, and the city's murder rates steadily declined until there were only three last year. But 2015's killings were mostly attributed to one organization, and despite the department's best efforts, this year is seeing another increase. 

"We're doing the best we can," Hansen said. 

Prevention work isn't easy, and he said it can be difficult to tell why exactly violent crimes are happening more or less when they tend to naturally ebb and flow each year. 

While the Santa Maria Police Department has been heavily focused on gang activity and youth safety in recent years, none of this year's killings were linked to any single criminal organization, and almost all involved older adults. 

"I think it's wrong to say this is just a youth issue," Hansen said. 

The department has also been working domestic violence cases especially hard, and Hansen said there hasn't been a single domestic violence-related murder yet this year. He hopes to continue that work in 2019.  

Staffing and patrolling increases will also likely come to the department within the next year, according to Hansen, who said that will be the result of Measure U, an increase to the city's existing sales tax from .25 to 1 percent that voters approved on Nov. 6. Although the department won't start seeing those additional funds until well after April 1, Hansen said he's looking forward to growing his staff and resources to better meet the community's needs. 

Even with the additional financial help, Hansen said violent crimes will still happen. Santa Maria is growing, and that can lead to increases in criminal activity. 

"I think people forget that Santa Maria is a pretty big city now," he said.

Weekly Poll
How should Lompoc respond to the lawsuit claiming its ordinance restricting where registered sex offenders can live is unconstitutional?

The city should fight the lawsuit in court.
The city needs to repeal the ordinance and settle the lawsuit.
Most cities in California have already repealed similar ordinances.
Keep the ordinance. Residents need it for public safety.

| Poll Results